In covering the political era and the evolution into the reform era of policing, we have seen a change in focus from very local control of police, to a higher level of outside influence primarily at the state level. Proceeding into the COPS or community oriented policing service era, the advent of the 1994 Omnibus Crime Control Act put federal initiatives and oversight into the forefront of policing strategy and funding.
Community Oriented Policing Services – Federal Intervention
While the intent of the Crime Control Act was to discern best practices, identify causes and shortfalls in dealing with crime and improve funding of technological and other equipment, as well as improve personnel hiring and training the reality fell far short. While the increased federal funding paid for additional personnel, technology, training and other equipment, the grants were often poorly targeted or effectively utilized within the context of the actual needs of the community. Increasingly, attention was given to qualifying and fulfilling the federal requirements to maintain funding for initiatives developed, as well as scrambling to deal with the vagaries of congressional attention, follow up and consistent funding.
It would not be unusual to have a department or Sheriff’s Office initiate a community policing project, only to lose funding for the officers or equipment needed to fulfill the goals of the project. This hit and miss approach caused many to dismiss community oriented policing strategies as ineffective at its core objective, that of reducing crime in the hardest hit communities. Resistance from both police, due to entrenched crime fighter views and the community, due to mistrust of police and their targeting strategies also contributed to challenges facing community oriented policing strategies.
Evolution – Putting It Together
Even with the bureaucratic dysfunction of federal involvement in policing, the money that seems to be best spent has been on research of what works and what hasn’t been effective within policing strategies by groups truly interested in finding solutions, rather than fulfilling political or ideological agendas. The first real glimmer of success arose as a response to youth homicides and gang activity in Boston during the 1990’s. Operation Cease Fire, a comprehensive initiative developed by David Kennedy, Anthony Braga and Anne Piehl incorporated a ground breaking strategy of identifying specific individuals involved with the violence, valued persons involved in the target’s life, social and faith based community leaders and law enforcement to perform an intervention and an opportunity to get out of the violent culture.
The coordinated application of community pressure, support and police offering to withhold further action with cessation of violence in coordination with swift enforcement for further violence led to a significant drop in the violence with the Boston youth targeted. Though it was initially successful, the violence returned to even higher levels in the mid 2000’s, reaching a peak in 2010.
Community Oriented Policing-Lessons in the Field
Enter the next phase of POP or problem oriented policing with the innovation of Chief James Healy, who stepped into High Point, North Carolina, a community severely troubled by drugs, crime and hopelessness. In 2003, he initiated what is now known as the High Point Drug Market Intervention Strategy. Building on more than 25 years of experience in narcotics in the Austin, Texas Police Department, he drew from Operation Ceasefire, Safe Neighborhood Project and other innovative strategies to deal with the roots of the community’s problems, including the mistrust of the police.
His strategy incorporated “focused deterrence”: identifying a drug market, bringing in violent dealers, initiating a call in for non- violent dealers, including police, social services, community leaders and influential people in the dealer’s life. Those dealers are then told that they are valuable to the community and the dealing must stop. The dealers are given social support, as well as an ultimatum if they return to dealing; they will be prosecuted on the cases that the police developed in preparation for the intervention. The emphasis was not on the drugs themselves, but a particular type of drug activity known as an “overt market” in which dealers took over neighborhoods, attracted drive through buyers, prostitutes and engaged in “shooting the place up”.
He went further and initiated an open, honest conversation between police and the community. Police officers perceived drug dealers shooting others for no good reason, recruited children as couriers or lookouts, dealer’s families didn’t tell them to stop, there was no expectation to finish school or work and worse yet no one cared. On the community’s side, they perceived that the police are part of a conspiracy to destroy them; the government invented and brought in crack and passing laws to ensure their children spend the rest of their lives in jail. The very dynamics of fighting “the war against drugs” creates an adversarial brick wall between the community and the police.
There were several major components to the ongoing success of the High Point initiative. The first was working with the Project Safe Neighborhood to confront misconceptions and begin an ongoing, honest dialogue about race, history and making the decision to move forward. The police further stated during ongoing research of this initiative that it was critical to prepare the groundwork of educating every component of the initiative to get to significant “buy in” of those involved at every level. They also emphasized the importance of continued maintenance efforts, as well as the ongoing improvements in police/community relations that is spreading to other communities in the surrounding area.
Evolution of Policing-Conclusions
With the current economic conditions wreaking havoc on government budgets at every level, creative solutions to the issues of crime, policing and incarceration will continue to evolve. The High Point initiative gives a great framework to build on the lessons of the past, in particular, the restoration of the community’s duty to engage in ensuring their neighborhoods remain or become safer, more secure places to live and raise children. Policing cannot provide all the answers to society’s ills, nor can it ignore the impact of ineffective strategies upon the communities they serve. The High Point initiative demonstrates that cooperative win/win solutions built to fit each unique community stand a far greater chance of achieving long term improvements in community satisfaction, as well as police effectiveness, than efforts driven by frustration, ideological or political agendas or quick fixes driven by crises. Those well considered solutions often yield far reaching benefits in reductions in the criminal justice caseload and incarceration rates which in turn allows for more effective utilization of those resources to the areas that most need it.
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What are the most important lessons to be learned going forward from each era of policing? Are federal legislative and policy efforts helping or hindering local efforts to deal with community crime problems? How would you build on what was learned through the High Point Initiative? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.