Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reforming Police = Bending Granite

Police reform - It's not rocket science

Last blog I talked about confusing messages from police agencies about their operating philosophy. Are they one thing, or are they another? Does it matter?

Yes, it does. First, it is too easy to get sidetracked by all the crime prevention jibberish showing up nowadays. Police agencies need to be properly informed about what works, what doesn't, and what role to play. Last year Gerry Cleveland did a guest blog here about the Guardians versus the Vanguard that spells this out.

Second, SafeGrowth and crime prevention types get help (or not) directly from their local police services. In marginal agencies that help will be limited to patrol or enforcement crackdowns - important in a few cases, but not many.

With exemplary agencies SafeGrowthers will receive a full range of prevention services, crime analysis, sophisticated problem-solving as well as enforcement.

The difference between the marginal agency and the exemplary agency is night and day. And while the choice for prevention practitioners is a simple one, unfortunately they may not have the choice. Sadly, some police agencies are still mired in the muck of obsolete methods, or worse, choose to de-evolve to by-gone philosophies.

What are those philosophies?

The first cops - British bobbies - walked the beat. They knew who was who and what was what. The American version of that in the late 18th and early 19th century was the standard bearer of early peace-keeping. They were, at least by some accounts, part of the community. They are a distant echo of today's community policing, but lacking the technological sophistication and training emerging from the "professional" era.


For reasons of training, quality and anti-corruption, a whole new kind of policing grew up in the early 20th Century - professional policing that focused on "law enforcement". Cops were taken off the beat and placed into patrol cars. Removed from the lives of everyday people, they were dispatched to trouble spots via radio (today, computer dispatch).

In the 60s professional law enforcement came under attack for being too removed from the everyday citizen. Police were not a part of the community. Out of touch with popular sentiment and ineffective at preventing crime, professional law enforcement got a black eye. It turns out, only a small part of policing deals with enforcing laws. Most of it is about keeping the peace, community safety and solving neighborhood problems.


That led to the community policing and problem-solving (COPPS) movement. My favorite part of COPPS is problem-oriented policing (POP).

Over the past few decades much fruit was born from POP collaborative police/community strategies. They solved difficult problems like robbery, violence, and burglary. For samples look no farther than the clearinghouse-of-everything-POP at the website of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing. I blogged on last year's award winner about cutting motel crime in California.

This year's batch of POP projects is now working through the adjudication process. As a screening judge on the POP awards panel I can tell you there are some remarkable projects this year.

If you get a chance to attend the POP Conference, do so.

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