Friday, September 19, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 2

The Future of Police report reminds me of something Professor Herman Goldstein warned us about years ago - confusion about the ends over the means!

The future that the public wants - the ends – is less crime and more public safety. They want to get there - the means – by more community-building, more inclusive problem-solving, and better relationship-building.

I might be wrong, but I doubt the means that the public expects from police are the technology-drenched, algorithms suggested in Future of Policing.

"These changes," says the Preface in Future, "are not just about finding new ways to reduce crime; they go deeper, to evaluating the basic mission of the police, and what people want from the police."


Of course saying officers should “go deeper” is not the same as doing it. Nor is it the same as providing the training to teach them how. Unfortunately training programs that teach such things - problem-based learning, emotional intelligence, PTO field training – do not show up in Future (even though the COPS office and PERF promoted development of those programs).

One quote by a LAPD supervisor suggests an escape from this institutional autism:

“…when [officers] spend time in the high-probability areas, they need to be doing problem solving. There is something there that is attracting criminals; we tell officers to look for the magnets. The goal isn’t more arrests, the goal is crime prevention.”

Very true! Except throughout 45 pages of text crime prevention was cited only 9 times and never explained fully.


In Planning in Turbulence an author concludes: “our level of ignorance about social systems is quite astounding, yet our analytical approaches…assume away this ignorance outright through the specification of incomplete models based on incomplete or often inaccurate data.” 

That was 28 years ago regarding urban planning. I police science any better or are we facing that exact same paradox?

In SafeGrowth we overcome this by developing neighborhood teams who run their own prevention plans alongside local cops. LISC’s Community Safety Initiative publications describe how we do it.

Another workaround emerges with street cops themselves who peek inside our communities. For example consider success stories in Camden NJ and Virginia Beach.


Future of Policing describes the Camden NJ police using forfeiture funds in 2011 to purchase technology and form partnerships with other law enforcement. But a year later real change exploded.

As the New York Times reported, fed up with a flood of crime, tired of strict union rules inflating costs, 30% absenteeism at work and overtime pay for basic duties, the City of Camden shut down their police force and started over.

Without union rules they rehired 150 of the 200 old officers back and hired another 250 new officers. They instituted foot patrols, had volunteers walking the streets, and expanded youth programs. They properly staffed their CCTV and ran more enforcement.

The result? Youth program involvement increased, response times plunged from 1 hour to 4 minutes, crime rates dipped and murders dropped from 21 to 6.

Virginia Beach police Chief Cervera talking to Boy Scout Explorers - photo VBPD

A national leader in both the PTO program and problem-based learning, Virginia Beach went one step further. The news clip "Ask a cop for coffee and some conversation" describes how.

Once a year Chief Jim Cervera has his officers of all ranks walk neighborhoods and knock on thousands of doors to ask what residents think of their police.

Says Cervera: "We want the surveys to prompt real conversations. There is nothing better than two people from different social, racial or ethnic backgrounds having a heart-to-heart discussion about a common goal."


No sensible person wants the mantle of anti-tech Luddite. Science is part of the way forward. But as Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow makes clear in Governing Science, it needs careful watching. Those who champion science are not the new Lords of Truth. They are Tech Emissary’s with flashlights to find our way in the dark

Turning crime around will mean a neighborhood planning system with three equal partners: carefully governed science and technology; active neighborhood groups working directly with their local police; and cops and residents co-trained in the kinds of problem-solving methods we know work so well.

We've only dabbled in these things. Now it's time to deep dive. It's called neighborhood governance and it is our future. That also didn’t show up in the report. But it should have!

Friday, September 12, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 1

Hot of the press: Future Trends in Policing from the COPS Office, PERF, and the Target Corporation. It is a report of a 2012 survey and summary of a one-day session with police leaders on the "Future of Policing."

It reveals what some police executives think might happen in future. Is it a prophesy we really want?


The survey reported 94% of respondents said their agency was involved in community policing, 89% in problem-oriented policing (COPS). Good news, right?

I've taught hundreds of police instructors over the past few years. Every time I ask them about COPS few, if any, admit to knowing anything beyond the superficial. Practically none of their agencies are doing anything beyond a small sprinkling of COPS specialists, less than 10% at best.

Last month I asked again, this time whether they knew anything about problem-oriented policing. The class had instructors from the east coast, mid-west, Canada, and the south. Same results: Out of 25 police instructors only 1 knew what POP was and he was from Madison, Wisconsin (the home of the POP Center).


Do police survey responders inflate whether they are doing COPS when they respond to a national survey on the topic? Saying one thing, doing another?


Future Trends had very little discussion of problem-oriented policing. In 45 pages of text it was cited only 3 times.

I did however notice the report was awash in GPS, cybercrime, body cameras, facial recognition software, predictive policing algorithms and intelligence-led policing. My personal favorite was NG 911 - Next-Generation 911.

[NERD ALERT: I love that stuff. Anytime I hear references to Star Trek - The Next Generation, my nerd-o-meter tingles. Beam me up!]

In other words science will come to our rescue? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!


Survey statement: "In the future agencies will place less emphasis on community policing." 

75% of police agencies in the survey disagreed with that statement. Glass-half-full, right? But 25% offered no opinion or actually agreed that in future cops will do less community policing!

In other words, after 35 years of publications, conferences, training courses, and successes that account for at least some reduced crime, 1-in-4 police survey respondents see less community policing in the years ahead! Sounds more like a glass half-empty!

Considering the Ferguson riots two weeks ago that portends a bleak future.

Next week: Part 2 - The good news

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stargazing in Tucson

Shopping mall parking lot - LPS lighting with halide lighting in adjacent property 

Stargazing is a remarkable activity and even if you don't know what to look for, an overhead canopy filled with stars is awe-inspiring. The Dark Sky Society (and astronomers everywhere) agree. Me too!

Nowhere does this have more power than Tucson, Arizona where I've been this past week. The city has some of the strictest regulations to keep light pollution down. Like other communities with national astronomy observatories, it promotes those dim, orangish-hue low pressure sodium lights (LPS) for streets and parking lots.

I visited mall parking lots this week in and around Tucson. LPS are everywhere. They are awful!

Shopping plaza parking lot with pedestrians walking across - look carefully
The engineering lighting standard for mall parking lots is 3 footcandles (FC). An on-line survey of 9 communities reports an average 1 FC in most of those communities.

In one lot that I visited I doubt LPS produced 3 FC or even 1 FC! I love stargazing but I would not enjoy walking those lots at night.

Thankfully the economy is changing the story. Tucson is in the midst of the nation-wide LED transformation for more savings and it is switching LPS street lights over to Light Emitting Diode lighting. I hope mall owners in and around Tucson get the message. I would not want to be a victim walking to my car. Nor would I want to be a property owner sued by a victim of violent crime in those spooky, target-rich lots.

Tree tops benefitting from LPS lighting

Monday, September 1, 2014

A few years after tomorrow

There are these new urban regeneration schemes called malls-without-walls, one example being the Liverpool One development in the UK. They bring to mind Oath of Fealty, a science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They raise a thought worth pondering.

The Liverpool One land development is owned by the British Duke of Westminster. It privatizes 35 downtown streets and spans 42 acres all controlled by a private security force and CCTV. Of course big shopping malls are not new but they are usually relegated to the suburbs far from the downtown core. Not this one.


The Liverpool One land development project turns a new corner. Costing up to $2 Billion it is a central city shopping mall on steroids - hotels, plazas, shops, golf course, apartment towers, open air designs all policed by private security.

Decades ago Oath of Fealty prophesized a massive high-tech, city-in-a-city called Todos Santos, constructed following race riots and walled away from the chaos of Los Angeles surrounding it.

A thousand feet tall, single-structured super city, Todos Santos residents lived with constant surveillance in return for safety away from the grime, crime and bedlam that was a future Los Angeles. (Imagine the opening sequence of the film Bladerunner). Residents gladly offer up their Oath of Fealty for the benevolent Todos Santos security blanket.

In 1981 Oath of Fealty prophisized a new kind of city
Liverpool One is nowhere near that. It is a mega mall on steroids, not as sophisticated as the futuristic arcology, Todos Santos. It looks like a well-designed, upscale mall. Its private streets are subject to regular city by-laws.

Thus far.

Yet it is more interconnected than most open air malls and has abundant private security and pervasive CCTV. And like all evolutionary trends it exists in a context.


Consider the fear triggered from watching the Ferguson mayhem this week, dozens of riots in cities around the world in recent years and, in spite of declining crime rates, millions who now live in gated communities.

In all these contexts there is one constant. Fear! Who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful, secure place of the future?

Consider the comments about Liverpool One by Roy Coleman, criminology faculty at Liverpool University: "The rules for the newly privatised city centre fabricate an ideal citizen - aspirational in consumption and thinking big with urban pride."

That sounds very Todos Santos. It leads me to ask some elephant-in-the-room questions: If we have the resources and desire to build safe mini-cities within cities where people can freely choose to live, is that a good thing? Or if it is such a bad thing, why are so many of them showing up?