Saturday, March 31, 2012

Les Miserables - reinventing the wheel?

Nothing to do in Chichy, France. It could be anywhere in the world.
My focus on North American cities results from my current travel agenda, not because cities elsewhere are very different when it comes to crime. Recent news about the French presidential election provides a reminder that we are all very much alike.

Consider France. To experienced travelers France is known as the place for exceptional cuisine, wine, and enviable high speed rail. France is celebrated for progressive social programs: eight weeks paid vacation for most employees, the world's best public healthcare.

Yet as elsewhere French cities too have high crime neighborhoods where misery outweighs civility. One is Chichy-sous-Bois, a so-called Banlieue (what Americans disparagingly call "the projects").

Chichy is a poor, run-down suburb of Paris. Some writers describe Chichy as a nondescript suburb without a center, wedged between high-rise apartments and four-lane highways. No public transit means two hour commutes downtown, only 10 miles away. Residents feel isolated and ignored. Except for public transit, that is also an apt description for Toronto's Jane/Finch corridor where San Romanoway is located.

The famous TGV high speed train. France produced this...

...apartment towers in Chicy. France produced this too.
Journalists describe Chichy as a "high crime area where police rarely bothered to venture". Crime and violence seem endemic. Until recently, that was an apt description for Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood featured earlier.

There is discrimination against Chichy's immigrant residents. When two Chichy teen boys were accidentally killed while running away from police in October 2005 it erupted into three weeks of violence, looting and arsons that later spread nation-wide. Over 9,000 cars burned, 3,000 arrests. Ironically, last year the same thing happened in Tottenham, UK.

Referring to the Tottenham riots I wrote that festering poverty and deprivation dries up collective goodwill, what sociologists call community efficacy.

The French in Chichy, Canadians in San Romanoway, Americans in Hollygrove, or British in Tottenham. Same lesson: If you respond to (but don't prevent) crime, underfund public transit, ignore repairs to dilapidated homes, fail to address get a tinderbox.

The French are pinning their hopes on $500 Billion urban "renewal" in areas surrounding Chichy (completely ignoring Chichy) and a new police station in a nearby neighborhood. Hopefully they'll discover throwing cops and money at nearby neighborhoods seldom works to tamp down tinderboxes. Meanwhile, Hollygrove is coming back from the brink and San Romanoway was the first SafeGrowth success.

They don't have to reinvent the wheel to fix Chichy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Canada, tough on crime? Strange things done in the midnight sun...

Night-time at Canada's Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Inside the neighborhood. That's where crime is prevented and community is built. That's why federal politics rarely appear here. Today, briefly, Leroy changed my mind.

Leroy Smickle is a 30-year old Toronto father with no criminal record. In 2009 he was at his cousin's apartment and, discovering a loaded handgun, hatched a bone-headed idea. Holding the gun in one hand and a laptop computer in the other, he began snapping pictures of himself wearing sunglasses and boxer shorts. Apparently, to the infantile, this looks cool.

At that very moment [I'm not making this up....honest] a police tactical squad busted down the door to arrest Smickle's cousin on another matter. And there was Smickle, in flagrante delicto, gun in hand, sunglasses, laptop clicking away, boxer shorts, well… you get the picture. Talk about a bad visual. Talk about bad luck!

Fast forward. After 7 months of pre-trial incarceration, Smickle came in front of Judge Anne Molloy. Mandatory sentencing rules required her to send Smickle to another 3 years in prison. Three years, no record, for a bone-headed stunt.

Instead she gave him 5 months in-house arrest and called the mandatory sentencing "outrageous".


In truth, except for a new law just passed in Ottawa, the Smickle caper is little more than tabloid fodder. But today that changed. Canada's federal conservative government voted sweeping tough-on-crime legislation into law (mandatory sentences, more prison-building, etc).

I've criticized BC courts for leniency in prior blogs. Mandatory sentencing would seem the answer. In fact, the BC Premier (and other western Premiers) supports the new law. But mandatory sentencing rarely works and more prisons just fill up. Ontario and Quebec oppose the law.

What about the public? A recent non-scientific poll found 86% wanted more prevention. Only 8% wanted more punishments.

Restorative justice advocates call it a step backwards. Canadian criminologists feel the same.

Even justice officials in Texas, the most conservative of all States, say the new Canadian law won't work. They've tried and it failed. In fact they are repealing their mandatory sentences in favor of drug treatment and community supervision.

With apologies to great Canadian poet Robert Service, there truly are strange things done in the midnight sun. I fear there are dark days ahead in the Canadian justice system.

Canadian criminologist Evelyn Zellerer describes restorative justice as one alternative to new Canadian law

Friday, March 16, 2012

C-3PO: Civic Protection, Privatization, Policing

This is policing in the 21st Century?
After my last blog I'm fighting the urge to quote the Star Wars droid Threepio: "We're Doomed!"

The story of cooked books in NYPD seems the symptom of a much larger crisis. CompStat is an excellent idea. What went wrong? The opportunity to truly change service delivery was at hand. Did they blow it?

Now the Great Recession has changed the game. Declining budgets. Rapidly changing police roles. Private security filling gaps. Systematic problem-solving lost in the dust. Combat policing on the rise. Community policing on the decline.

Clearly, policing faces the single greatest challenge in a half century.

You can imagine my surprise yesterday when I saw the agenda at the inaugural US version of the International Conference for Police Law Enforcement Executives next month in Seattle. Here's part of the program. Find Waldo...

* Terror sleeper cells
* Internal corruption
* Special interest groups
* Negative press and malicious accusations
* Union non-confidence motions
* High tech cyber crime

What's missing? How about the single greatest challenge in a half century! These conferences are important and necessary for executives. However I do think, respectfully, that our eyes need to be on the prize. This agenda suggests otherwise.

Thomas Cahill said economic crises create "hinges in history". We are not doomed, of course. But we are at such a hinge right now. I have started a LinkedIn discussion group to talk about alternative types of accountability, measuring success and failure, and new models for public safety. Find it here:

Civic Protection in the 21st Century - Policing, Privatization and Public Safety

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Time for a change in policing?

This week The Wire came to life. I much prefer blogging successes vs wrongdoing. Every now and then though something comes along. It happened Wednesday, an ugly echo of the Serpico affair 40 years ago.

If you're not into policing, Serpico was the NYPD detective who retired after blowing the whistle on corruption in the 1960s and 1970s. His revelations led to a government inquiry, the Knapp Commission, and the Oscar nominated film Serpico starring Al Pacino.

This Wednesday Village Voice published NYPD Crime Stats Manipulation Widespread. Written by two criminologists, it summarized their scientific research, internal reviews and news accounts of a whistle blower. It confirms that NYPD is cooking their crime books, engaging in questionable arrests and reclassifying crime reports all in the name of proving that CompStat cuts crime. The irony is CompStat was intended to enhance accountability and improve police leadership, not the reverse.

Perhaps the most shameful part of this sordid tale (one that decent and hardworking NYPD street cops themselves probably cannot believe) is the story of officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Like Serpico, Schoolcraft uncovered police wrongdoing, this time by secretly taping conversations of his bosses.

The NYPD precinct where Officer Schoolcraft's secret tapes were recorded 
Lamplighters like Serpico and Schoolcraft are often ostracized (in Serpico's case he was shot by druggies when his backup didn't show; in Schoolcraft's case he was dragged in front of a psychiatrist to prove he's insane). Schoolcraft ended up filing a federal lawsuit against NYPD.

The study confirmed Schoolcraft's allegations. In later reports the criminologists (one a former NYPD Captain) claim that NYPD has become a place of "relentless pressure, questionable activities, unethical manipulation of statistics. We've lost the understanding that policing is not just about crime numbers, it's about service."

Service indeed! That demand should be made of everyone in charge of public safety.

All which leads me to wonder: How widespread is this fuzzy math? Are there better models for accountability and measuring success and failure? Perhaps it's time to rethink an entirely new model of police services?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tackling vertical crime - History in the making

Resident youth composing in the new San Romanoway sound studio
Reminiscing always gives me the willies. Are memories exaggerated? Ignored? Still, now and then, a memory surfaces worth shouting aloud. I recently came across this one.

Disclaimer: Some of this is probably not even my memory - at least not latter parts of it - but rather stories of others doing remarkable work. I doubt many of them even know my name. It's doesn't really matter. It's a fantastic story for turning troubled places back from the brink. It's also probably one of the birthplaces for tactics that later became SafeGrowth.

Yesterday I discovered a recently posted YouTube (see below). It shows another success at the San Romanoway apartments in Toronto's infamous Jane/Finch corridor. I have written about San Romanoway elsewhere.

Here's my memory of the project: 12 years ago myself and Ross McLeod assembled a team to review and recommend ways to reverse endemic violence in some high crime apartment towers.

In late 2000 we wrote the San Romanoway Revitalization plan. The plan had steps for research surveys, a community association, gardens, and lots of CPTED. Community organizer Stephnie Payne was then hired to start outreach, raise funds, administer the association, and get things going. She did that magnificently. McLeod's security company worked with her to tackle crime.

The rest, as they say, is history. The video tells the latest chapter in this story.