As America wrestles with recent high profile police shootings and use of force incidents, we are reminded that policing is a complex job with frequent opportunity to make enormously tough decisions. For most this discussion is healthy as Americans have come to the realization that the police work for them and must be accountable for their actions. Accountable, not in a subservient manner, but in a way that the masses understand they control government. It also becomes clear for there to be societal order the community must willing abide by the rule of law and foster a culture of lawfulness.
There are those who think the police should be more like firefighters. That is they should sit in the station, polishing their brass, waiting for the bell to ring before springing into action. In other words don’t talk to or contact me unless I request your services. They find comfort in 100% reactive policing. Less proactive policing cannot and does not work. Quality policing matters greatly.
To be effective policing must be different. To reduce crime the police must often be proactive, problem centric and data driven. That means sometimes the police will have to take the lead and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. They will initiate contact with those who don’t want to be stopped. They must risk life and limb to detain those for whom they discover reasonable suspicion. The police must even arrest and go hands on with those who will fight to stay free. Yes, sometimes a police officer must use high levels of force to stop those who would violate others in order to serve their warped sense of entitlement.
To control crime the police must be proactive in three areas:
- Problem Solving: The police should analyze crime and community data to understand the dynamics of why crime exists at the intersection of victim, location and suspect. They should also think about what can protect the victim, manage the location or control those intent on victimizing others. It’s not always the police. Problem solving is often non-confrontational and sometimes the best way to control crime.
- Community Policing: The police must guide the community to proactively police themselves. Recently a group in Redding established an “anti-homeless” Facebook account that encouraged violence. That cannot work in a civil society. Neighbors can however work to remove anonymity from would be thieves; teach Situational Crime Prevention; Conduct focused neighborhood patrols, stream video of the community to police; create a sense of collective efficacy. This idea of collective efficacy has the essence of the community policing itself. It not surprisingly has the highest correlation of safety.
- Proactive Enforcement: Something the police understand that few others do is proactive law enforcement. Proactive law enforcement is vital to successful crime control. The problem is policing does this delicate surgery with a chainsaw, rather than a scalpel.
We know from data and experience that some criminals spin out of control. Only taking that person out of society for a period of time will cool them down. There is a caveat. The police must use pretextual contacts to accomplish this task. Pretext stops are the very contacts many community members object to. “You stopped me for a taillight and now you want to search my car.” I don’t understand.
Proactive enforcement differs greatly from “stop and frisk” tactics criticized heavily on the East coast. Proactive policing is focused, purposeful and effective. Proactive enforcement is based on reasonable suspicion and seeks to stop criminal before they commit crime. It is never based on race but on behavior, data and intelligence. There are fewer complaints than stop and frisk.
For example, two officers saw a car in the drive through of a fast food restaurant. It was a heavy gang area and they wore bandanas (colors) from a rival gang set. A stop of the car and search revealed two handguns with obliterated serial numbers. The bandana clad young men later admitted they were looking for a person to shoot and got hungry.
A burglar was stopped recently by a patrol officer for a bike infraction. A search of his backpack revealed stolen property from several burglaries. He admitted to doing more and looking for additional victims. The list could go on. For the police to be effective they must be proactive.
That means however the police must build trust A search of his backpack revealed stolen property from public confidence they will be fair, non-biased and willing to listen. To get respect, you must give it. Can the community accept this? Can the police humble themselves to be objective and listen? Time will tell.