Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Will Roundtree Deliver COPS in Richmond?

AUGUSTA, GA - On November 6 the Richmond County Sheriff Office will have a new leader. Richard Roundtree is running for that position and promising to put back on the neighborhoods the community oriented policing program. His opponent Freddie Sanders thinks that the Sheriff job is to put people in jail and that the courts have to decide what to do with them. It can't be a race more black and white than that.

Community policing is the most popular policing reform in the United States, and is very popular abroad, but little attention has been paid to just how challenging it has been to implement. Using a national mail survey of large municipal and county police agencies conducted in 2006, this paper attends to that lacuna. It investigates the views of the leaders of America's local police agencies on what has been more or less challenging in implementing community policing and to what extent these challenges have been overcome.

Our findings suggest that overall most leaders see themselves as enjoying a fair measure of success in meeting the challenges of community policing implementation, but that the traditional impediments to organizational change, scarce resources and a resistant police culture, continue to persist. The agencies reporting the greatest success in overcoming challenges are those that are nationally accredited and those that have been at community policing implementation the longest.

For some time community policing has been embraced by the vast majority of American police leaders. In 1994 under the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, the U.S. Department of Justice gave grants to state and local police agencies to support it (Roth et al., 2000), and it is now the most popular police reform in the United States (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003; Skogan and Roth, 2004; Skogan, 2006a). Surveys have shown that its programs are much adopted in the United States (Roth et al., 2004), and it is supported across America's political spectrum, from the Bushes to the Clintons.

Community policing is also popular in the United Kingdom and has become a globalized ‘commodity’ with active markets on every populated continent—in both developed and developing nations (Reiner, 1995; Skolnick and Bayley, 1988; Tilley, 2003; Brogden and Nijhar, 2005: ch. 1; Pino and Wiatrowski, 2006:36)—and its precepts guide much of the government/consultant Anglo-American export industry in police reform (Bayley, 2006; Brogden and Nijhar, 2005).

Oxford Journals

Increasingly, across the country, the town cop who walks a beat and relies on trust with locals may be a thing of the past; your neighborhood police investigation is increasingly likely to be a federal initiative, built on cooperation between your local police department and Washington, DC. In fact, with feds and local cops increasing their collaborations and seeking funding to expand their joint investigations, we may be seeing the end of “community policing” as we’ve known it. In the short run, this has been a good thing, since crime has grown more complex and stiff federal penalties are often necessary deterrents. But in the long run, it’s shaping up to be the biggest challenge to liberal governance and local autonomy that we’ve seen in some time.

FEDERAL-LOCAL PARTNERSHIPS currently target a surprisingly wide range of crimes and it’s hard to pinpoint the criteria determining the involvement of FBI, DEA, ICE and other Department of Justice officials in local matters. Sometimes the locals are out-matched, at other times multiple-jurisdictions require federal coordination, and on occasion, a federal prosecutor simply finds a racketeering case too good to pass up. It’s almost always true, however, that the relationship is openly transactional. The feds bring gifts to the locals, in the form of cars, decent pay, and fancy surveillance gadgetry. In return the feds “rent” local cops (and the local knowledge they possess).

And the results can be impressive: For violent gang interdiction alone, the FBI’s “Safe Streets” Taskforce has worked with police to net 55,000 arrests and 23,000 convictions. That is an extraordinary number given that the modern gangs are working out of prisons and communities that cut across the jurisdictions of local police departments—and sometimes national borders.

The arrests are not the only victories. In Chicago, I assessed the outcome of such so-called “taskforce”-style partnerships and the evidence was promising: Residents felt safer using public spaces, storeowners experienced less extortion, and even gang members exited their organizations at a greater rate after a federal operation—unlike the past, today’s local-federal collaborations are well publicized. In the city’s Southside communities, where a typical month now hosts several hundred incidents of gun violence, this is no trivial accomplishment. And, of course, with towns, counties, and states struggle to fund services, federal resources are that much more attractive. Everyone wants the feds.

It’s worth remarking, however, that this marks an enormous shift in American policing. Federal taskforces pose a direct threat to community policing, the enforcement strategy based on the belief that public safety is strongest when local cops and local community leaders work hand-in-hand. For decades, this style of policing was the national model of crime prevention. It kept money in the hands of mayors, police chiefs, and the unions. The biggest domestic law enforcement initiative in the last 30 years—Bill Clinton’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” (COPS) program, which funded 100,000 officers at a cost of $7.6 billion—was based on the community policing strategy.

But the COPS initiative, ultimately, did little to stop or solve crimes. (The Government Accountability Office attributed only a 1.3 percent of crime reduction to the program.) Indeed, there’s reason to believe that community policing has become less effective as crime has become more complex. Criminals now routinely cross (state and international) borders, they work through prison networks even for local gang recruitment, and they are as likely as cops to draw on their own hi-tech tools. Local police in high crime areas simply couldn’t keep up on their own, and were forced into essentially becoming war-time surgeons performing triage. They had to choose which crimes to follow, prioritizing only those conflicts most likely to unravel and harm innocents. And they could not follow any particular crime or criminal for very long.

From the standpoint of a community, when you have both the dramatic rise in crime, and you have the compromised state of police with respect to the resources that they have, you have a very difficult decision for a family, a parent, etcetera, to make. And that decision is taking place around the country, which is that if I don't know whether the police are going to come, do I try to solve this situation myself?

Do I go to a clergy member? Do I find some other kind of resource? And what's happening around the country is that you'll see mediation, dispute resolution, people starting to take matters into their own hands because there's a lack of confidence, or they're unsure whether some police car is going to come and respond.

You know, that can be productive, there's a history of kind of self-reliance in American society, but I think you can imagine that that can also be - make police very nervous and neighbors very nervous that people are taking the law into their own hands. And so it's tense in some places outside of Chicago.

Sudhir Venkatesh, The New Republic

Big budget cuts are forcing police departments across the country to make tough decisions. Camden, New Jersey, may eliminate its entire force and ask the county to police the city. Two years ago, 80 police officers and 21 cadets were laid off in Oakland. As a result, fewer and fewer resources are available for community policing, the law enforcement approach that put cops back on the corner 20 years ago and emphasized crime prevention through local citizen involvement.

Neal Conan, NPR

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