Community Engagement Called Critical to 21st Century Policing

As police departments across the country take a hard look at policing, especially the way it has disadvantaged African Americans, “proactive” crime-fighting strategies combined with greater community engagement are shaping up as critical elements of U.S. police reform, write two scholars.

As police department across the country take a hard look at policing, especially the way it has disadvantaged African Americans, “proactive” crime-fighting strategies combined with greater community engagement are shaping up as critical elements of U.S. police reform, write two scholars in a recent commentary for The Hill.

Citing a 2018 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, David Weisburd and Greg Berman argue the nation needs a “blueprint” for policing in the 21st century that responds to community needs while restoring police legitimacy.

Weisburd, distinguished professor at George Mason University and a former chair of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Proactive Policing, and Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, argue that effective crime-fighting strategies, such as hot-spot policing and focused deterrence, must be paired with community engagement that treats the public,”including suspects and arrestees, with dignity and respect and an absence of bias.”

“Police departments should seek to limit their intrusion into the daily life of residents as much as possible,” the authors wrote. “Police departments should be surgical in their approach, narrowly targeting proactive strategies to small groups of chronic offenders and specific street corners that are magnets for crime, rather than blanketing whole precincts or neighborhoods with a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Weisburd was co-author of a study published last year in Criminology & Public Policy, which reported on a six-month Seattle pilot project applying procedural justice principles to police training. According to the study, officers who went through the training were involved in fewer use-of-force incidents, and made fewer arrests than their peers.

Additional Reading:

States Emerge as Critical Players in Police Reforms

Art, Science and the Challenge of Justice Reform (Greg Berman and Julian Adler, TCR)


Homicide and the Compassionate Cop

Responding to a shooting is a high-tension event for police. But it can also be a moment for building community trust—if survivors, eyewitnesses and family members of victims are treated with more empathy and respect, according to the Urban Institute.

Soon after her son was shot, his mother was called by an Oakland, Ca., police officer offering a ride in his patrol car.

He wanted “to make sure I was OK,” the woman recalled.

But the words of comfort quickly turned into an interrogation.

“He drove me around the neighborhood and asked if I knew what happened…probably because I have other sons and he probably thought they would know,” she said.

crime scene

Photo by booturtle via Flickr

The incident, described in a series of Urban Institute studies of how police respond to shooting events, was an example of how a focus on solving crimes without taking into account the emotions of survivors or community fears can perpetuate distrust, and fuel a climate that leads to more violence, researchers said.

The studies, conducted in partnership with the Urban Peace Institute, concluded that law enforcement was more effective when investigations were conducted with compassion, respect and transparency.

This was true even under the high-stakes pressure of a murder investigation, researchers said.

Going “beyond the yellow tape” at police crime scenes to apply the principles of procedural justice in dealing with shooting victims and relatives can even save lives, the researchers suggested.

“Police play a critical role in reducing community violence, but their legitimacy can be undermined by lack of community trust, particularly in high-crime communities where intervention is needed most,” the study authors said.

“Along with enabling community trust, procedurally just policing has the potential to address the needs of homicide victims and their families as well as prevent the spread of gun violence.”

The studies, undertaken to advise the Oakland Police Department on applying procedural justice to its policies and practices, were based on interviews with police, local community groups, crime victims, and family members.

The recommendations come as tensions and mistrust continue to undermine police-community relations in many U.S. cities.

Last week, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison for the 2014 killing of unarmed youth Laquan McDonald—a sentence that angered McDonald’s relatives and that activists called little more than a slap on the wrist. 

And a federal monitor appointed to oversee the Baltimore Police Department concluded that it would take years to reverse the corruption and racism that plagued the force.

Principles of Procedural Justice

The Urban Institute studies identified four approaches associated with procedural justice that were critical for improving police-community relations when law enforcement responded to a shooting scene, and during the subsequent investigation:

  • Treating victims and eyewitnesses with dignity and respect;
  • Taking the time to hear their accounts and answering questions even under the pressure of a live investigation;
  • Avoiding judgement and being transparent about what officers are doing in the scene;
  • Sharing as much information as possible within the limits of an ongoing investigation;

One study looked specifically at how survivors and family members of Oakland shooting incidents between 2011 and 2017 perceived contrasting police responses, making clear that empathy and compassion made a big difference.

One victim recalled his pleasure when a police officer visiting him at the hospital treated him with respect.

“He didn’t treat me like a criminal,” he said. “I was legitimately a victim and I felt that way even when he left. He left me use his phone. He was solid.”

But many other examples, like the police officer who turned giving a lift to the mother of a shooting victim into an interrogation, left a bad taste.

When police interviewed victims of one incident, a survivor remembered, “it wasn’t about ‘are you OK?’ or ‘Are you going to make it?’ It was just like who did it?”

Eyewitness told stories of police joking or laughing at a murder scene and being rude or brusque—even though such behavior might have been the police officers’ own way of dealing with stress.

The studies noted that many officers were themselves beginning to realize the importance of balancing the priorities of a crime-scene investigation with the needs and sensitivities of affected communities.

“We were brought up in a time that (sic) it didn’t matter what the public thinks,” one veteran officer admitted to the researchers. “Now, we understand public perceptions play an important role in our success.”

Innovative Strategies

In one of the studies, researchers reviewed innovative approaches in nine U.S. communities that were successfully applying procedural justice principles to their investigations.

Examples included:

  • The chief of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Police Department placed the office of the coordinator of victim services next to his own office to underline his department’s commitment to victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches to police work;
  • Milwaukee police are partnering with local churches to ensure chaplains or other community religious leaders are present at crime scenes to provide emotional and spiritual care to victims;
  • The San Diego Police Department sends seven-person teams to every homicide scene in order to have sufficient staff on hand to both investigate the event and engage community members;
  • Within 48 hours of every homicide, the Richmond, Va., police department initializes a program called Community RESET (Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma), under which officers accompanied by counselors conduct door-to-door interviews with residents in the neighborhood—with the aim of identifying and addressing community trauma.

While the net effect of many of these efforts remains to be studied, the researchers said they demonstrate a growing consensus that traditional forms of police interaction with crime victims and survivors had to change.

“Treating people as individuals is an important form of giving them dignity and respect,” the study said, noting that interviews with Oakland shooting victims and families showed that a “perceived lack of compassion was often related to the sense of being treated as though the shooting situation was routine.

“Compassionate interactions affirm the humanity and value of a person.”

The most poignant statement about the Oakland Police Department (OPD) came from the residents themselves.

The researchers wrote: “Many simply said, ‘Can OPD just be human at the scene?’”

The three studies can be downloaded here.


Should Race be the Only Factor in Promoting Police Diversity?

Better racial representation in our police forces is important, but a would-be officer’s residence can also have a major impact on making on improving a department’s legitimacy in a community, argue two researchers.

Racial representation that reflects the diversity of a community is a key ingredient in improving relations between police and the communities they serve. This was one of the key recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in 2015.

The rationale is simple: Officers whose demographic characteristics reflect the communities in which they serve are more likely to have an interest in promoting equity, and to understand the racial perspectives and dynamics, within those communities. But does a racially representative force actually lead to better policing outcomes?

Arthur Rad

Abdul Rad

In a review of James Forman Jr.’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Devon Carbado and L. Song Richardson highlight a surprising finding: Over-policing in black neighborhoods implicates not only white officers, but black officers as well. Due to racial anxiety induced by their white peers, black officers “may experience stronger incentives” than their white counterparts to over-police and employ violence in order to avoid looking “soft” on crime.

Thus, while diversifying the racial makeup of our police forces is a critical dimension of reform, it is not the only step we need to take. In addition to creating departments that are more racially reflective of the communities they serve, we need to properly conceptualize what a truly “reflective” police force should look like.

It may be the case that, when it comes to policing outcomes, fair geographic representation is just as important as fair racial representation.

It is no secret that police forces across the nation are predominantly white. Using Department of Justice survey data, one study found that this is the case even in majority black jurisdictions. Given this reality, some departments have doubled down on efforts to reform their recruitment practices so that their officers are more racially representative of the communities they serve.

While improving racial representation in our police forces is an important goal, we must also consider whether problems will persist if we designate race as the only necessary consideration when creating a force that reflects community demographics.

One element frequently neglected by departments that hire minority officers is residency.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Officers from outside jurisdictions — regardless of whether their race matches that of those they are sworn to protect — may not have a vested interest in policing equitably. On the other hand, recruits of any race who live inside the jurisdiction of a given department have an immediate connection in the communities they serve, which may help offset the pressure to over-police that some black officers experience.

Racial and geographic disparities in officer hiring are inextricably linked, meaning that solving one disparity could exacerbate the other. For instance, it may be the case that trying to recruit from a wider pool of racially underrepresented populations could result in the hiring of more recruits from areas outside a given department’s jurisdiction.

Departments thus need to be cognizant of both elements simultaneously. In other words, if the goal is to create not only a more representative police force, but a more effective one, departments need to consider race along with place of residence when recruiting new officers.

We should ensure that the individuals joining the police force have a stake in promoting equity and understand the communities within which they work, something that is not necessarily the case if race is the only factor considered.

The locales from which officers are hired represent a critical dimension that departments need to consider in the recruitment reform process. Otherwise, we may see “racially reflective” police forces that continue or exacerbate the problems we already have.

Abdul Rad is an associate fellow with the R Street Institute. Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and Department of Justice prosecutor, and a retired U.S. Army officer, is the Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at R Street. They welcome comments from readers.


‘Old-Fashioned’ Policing Still Needed to Stop Gun Violence, say Two Scholars

The “public health” approach to preventing gun violence won’t reduce the high levels of shootings seen in many neighborhoods around the U.S. unless traditional policing is strengthened, according to two leading criminologists.

Gun violence won’t be reduced by treating it as a public health problem alone, say two prominent criminologists.

Finding ways to improve “old-fashioned” policing that emphasizes getting shooters off the street to face punishment and imprisonment is critical—but it’s in danger of being overlooked in the attention to newer strategies like community policing and early conflict mediation, Phillip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig wrote in a paper for the Social Science Research Council.

Many scholars have seized on the notion that the escalating levels of gun violence in many neighborhoods around the U.S. should be seen as an “epidemic” that can be addressed by public health disease prevention strategies.

But “when it comes to prevention of criminal misuse of guns, public health scholars tend to ignore or minimize…the most targeted prevention capacity: the criminal justice system’s ability to arrest, punish, and incapacitate shooters,” they wrote in the paper.

The authors cited the Aug. 4 weekend in Chicago, when 74 persons were shot but just one shooter was arrested, as an example of the “de facto impunity” provided gunmen when police fail to provide sufficient deterrence.

“One arrest out of 74 is even worse than normal—on average about five percent of shooters are arrested in non-fatal cases and 17 percent if the victim dies,” they wrote, adding that “even when there is an arrest, a conviction is far from guaranteed.”

The authors suggested that the lack of sufficient investigative resources, including more detectives, and the inability of police to provide protection to eyewitnesses who might identify the shooters, explains the startlingly high levels of gun violence in Chicago.

Friends and families of victims are more likely to seek violent retaliation if there’s no confidence that police will act forcefully to hunt down the shooters and take them off the streets, they wrote.

They wondered whether the contemporary emphasis on “preventive policing” and stricter gun regulation had diverted key resources from the traditional police role of deterrence and “incapacitation” of violent offenders.

“Police chiefs have learned to espouse proactive measures such as intensive patrol of crime hot spots, problem-oriented policing, (and) community policing has also acquired considerable cachet,” the papers said. “In this new prevention-oriented ethos, crime investigation seems old-fashioned.

“But in our view, reactive policing is a vital component of preventing gun violence and is ignored at our peril.”

They singled out as potentially effective some newly developed police and community strategies, such as “focused deterrence,” where police concentrate on identifying known shooters and violent individuals in a neighborhood and warn them they will suffer consequences if they are caught misusing guns.

But they pointed that such strategies can only work in the long run if police and courts “make good on the threat.”

The authors called on other scholars to devote more research into the consequences of shifting more police resources from investigation to prevention, noting for example that the percentage of detectives in the Chicago police force is now half as high as it is in large cities that have lower homicide rates, such as Los Angeles and New York.

“The criminal justice system is intended to preempt private vigilante action, but that purpose is undercut by poor performance,” they wrote. “Arresting less than 10 percent of shooters (as is currently the case in Chicago) may not assuage the instinct of survivors, their families and their gangs to avenge their victimization.”

The authors said while the public health approach was a useful addition to gun violence prevention strategies, criminologists and public health scholars need to focus as well on improving the performance of police in traditional areas, such as increasing “clearance” rates, which measure solved crimes.

Police authorities, for example, should focus on removing the bureaucratic “bottlenecks” that tie up police investigations and result in low clearance rates.

Equally important, they wrote, is investigating how police can improve witness cooperation and help “keep witnesses safe in dangerous neighborhoods that are often essentially run by street gangs.”

Cook is the ITT/Sanford Professor of Public Policy and a professor of economics and sociology at Duke University. He served as vice chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Law and Justice.

Jens Ludwig is director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Science Administration, law and Public Policy at the university.

The full paper can be downloaded here.


Survey Finds Justice-Involved Feel Disrespected by Courts, Cops

The controversy over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has focused attention on its potential impact on the Court’s legitimacy, but similar questions about the legitimacy of lower courts also need to be addressed, says the Center for Court Innovation (CCI).

The controversy over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has focused attention on its potential impact on the Court’s legitimacy, but similar questions about the legitimacy of lower courts  also need to be addressed, says the Center for Court Innovation (CCI).

In a new study, CCI examines how individuals who go through multiple components of the justice system (e.g., arrest, adjudication and incarceration) perceive whether they are receiving justice. 

Researchers administered surveys to 807 justice-involved people to determine their  overall feelings of fairness related to multiple criminal justice agencies, and also conducted interviews with 102 people who had significant experience with the police, the courts, and corrections.

They collected data in Newark, NJ and Cleveland, OH.

Overall, the majority of respondents felt that police officers did not treat them with respect, listen to them, or take their needs into account.

Yet despite generally reporting that police were not engaged in the community, were not respectful, and could not be trusted to arrive quickly if called to respond to a violent crime, more than half of respondents–58 percent– said they would call the police for help if they were in trouble.

Survey respondents’ perceptions of procedural justice during court appearances were more favorable: about four-fifths felt respected by the court officers and the judge and reported that they understood what was happening (e.g., court rules, procedures, case progress).

However, views of the local court system were not favorable among respondents, especially with regard to the court’s neutrality.

Of the interviewees, 50 percent felt that the poor and African Americans were treated worse than others by the courts. General views of the judges trended negative, with many respondents rating judges as out of touch and unfair.

Moreover, survey respondents had negative views about corrections. Many believed that correctional staff were too quick to use force against inmates and did not feel that staff were trying to protect and look out for inmates.

When respondents were asked about their overall general satisfaction with the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, the court system, and jail administrators, most of them admitted they were not satisfied– 3o percent of survey respondents reported high aggregate satisfaction with the criminal justice system, and 70 percent reported low-moderate aggregate satisfaction.

The CCI made the following policy recommendations:

  • Police-address neutrality and respect, police departments could mandate all officers to participate in trainings on implicit bias and effective and non-violent communication.
  • Courts-address understanding, courts could provide all defendants with materials that give detailed explanations of essential court processes (e.g., plea bargaining, bail payment), key terms (e.g., fines and fees), and legal rights. To address voice and respect, judges could use scripts with each defendant to ask if there is anything about the case or defendants’ personal circumstances they should know about before making a decision.
  • Corrections- increase respect and voice, jail and prison facilities could train correctional officers in effective and non-violent communication.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley.


Can Artificial Intelligence Hold Police Accountable?

A new data tool called Raheem.AI that enables community residents to monitor and report police conduct anonymously and in real time will soon get its first tryout in Oakland, Ca. Developer Brandon Anderson believes it can save lives.

Brandon Anderson sees artificial intelligence as the key to holding police accountable for racial bias, and he believes he has created a tool to do it.

“Police departments crunch huge amounts of data today, but we still don’t know how often law enforcement officers have hurt, killed, or for that matter saved and comforted people in the line of duty,” Anderson told CNBC.

Now the Oklahoma City native is seeking to change that with the creation of Raheem.AI, a data tool and chatbot app that allows community members to report police conduct in real time in a secure and anonymous way.

On Tuesday, Anderson, 33, was chosen as a 2018 fellow by Echoing Green, which funds innovation in areas ranging from racial justice to environmental conservation, for his work on Raheem.

Brandon Anderson

Engineers and designers from Google, Square, Twitter, and Facebook who are working on Raheem.AI as volunteers. Anderson is third from left.

As a member of the 2018 cohort, which consists of 35 fellows, Anderson will receive a two-year seeding grant, programmatic support, and access to a large network of alumni, including Michelle Obama.

Tiffany Thompson, a senior associate at Echoing Green and Anderson’s portfolio manager, said Anderson was chosen from a pool of over 2,800 applicants because of his proximity to his work.

“Those impacted should always be the ones leading this charge,” Thompson told The Crime Report. “That cannot be more true for Brandon, who does this work because of his personal experience” with police violence.

Anderson first became interested in technology as a means of saving lives when serving as a U.S. Army satellite engineer. Four years into Anderson’s service, he was called back home by a personal tragedy: after being charged with stealing a car, Anderson’s long-term partner had been beaten by police and had subsequently been hospitalized.

After his partner’s death, Anderson realized that behind the larger issue of police violence was a separate problem: the difficulty of reporting it.

‘Intimidating Process’

“The process is intimidating,” Anderson said. “Most cities require you to do it in person and within business hours. That’s nearly impossible for most working Americans.”

The resulting: underreporting. Anderson says that 93 percent of incidents involving police brutality go uncounted, “[leaving] officers unaccountable for their behavior,” and failing to provide cities with the data they need to identify concerning trends.

Anderson believes technology such as Raheem is a means of amplifying the voices of community members who might otherwise stay quiet about their experiences with police. Working with police departments, he identified the types of data necessary to inform policies that would put an end to violence, and developed Raheem to collect such information.

Users can access Raheem through the Facebook Messenger app or through the company’s website. The chatbot asks simple questions about a police interaction, presenting opportunities to write in greater detail as well.

When asked about the origin of his project’s name, Anderson said, “Raheem means compassion in Arabic, which embodies the spirit of love that was the impetus of this journey for me.”

“And it’s a human name for a human problem – it’s not a technological problem, or a process problem, or racial problem. Or it’s not only that. It’s a human problem, and I wanted to speak to that humanity.”

In addition to being an Echoing Green fellow, Anderson is also one of eight Black Male Achievement (BMA) fellows.

Thompson, who runs the BMA fellowship and formerly served as Engagement Associate for Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative, spoke to the particular importance of Anderson’s work to black males within the current climate.

“Black men and boys are being murdered at the hands of the police, and that’s not something new, but it’s becoming more prevalent in today’s society,” she said.

Supporting Black Men and Boys

“There’s a transformation that Brandon and Raheem are building out in a way that can help support black men and boys and can truly shift some of the systems that have been impacting them in a negative way.”

Anderson expressed his appreciation of the support he receives from the other BMA fellows.

“Frankly, 30 percent of my work in the past has been explaining to people the disproportionate impact [of police violence] on black people,” he said. “My effort doesn’t need to go into that anymore. My cohort gets that.”

Anderson plans to publish quarterly reports using the data Raheem collects to show where police are working well and where communities feel targeted by violence. The bot will also deliver custom reports to precincts, cities, and campuses to help them identify areas where their forces can improve.

Still, Anderson was clear that solving police violence does not end with technology, stressing the importance of coalitions with community-based organizations in making a difference.

He outlined three major goals for the Raheem.AI project.

First, Anderson seeks to cut the percentage of people who don’t report police violence. “Right now, 93 percent of people don’t report,” he said. “We want to get that down to zero.”

Second, “we want to collect large volumes of data and we want to use this data to advance policy solutions at the local and state level.”

Finally, in the long-term, Anderson hopes to arm community-based organizations with the necessary tools to engage in participatory budgeting.”

“There are very limited spaces wherein police can solve crime,” Anderson said. “Homeless people need homes; they don’t need quality-of-life infractions.

“Young people need access to better education; they don’t need truancy charges when they can’t make it to school.”

“Communities have a good handle on what they need to provide safe spaces. I want us to offer them the tools they need to craft participatory budgets that address their needs rather than giving money to the police.”

Raheem has already run pilot projects in Berkeley and San Francisco. Anderson’s first official partnership, with Oakland, Ca., will begin in a few months.

Elena Schwartz is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.


The LAPD’s Charlie Beck: How to Reform a Police Department

After eight years heading one of the nation’s largest police agencies, retiring Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck gives TCR a frank assessment of the challenges of being a big-city reform chief, what it takes to change the culture of American policing today, and some key lessons he learned.

As he prepares to move on after eight years heading one of the nation’s largest police agencies, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck sits down with TCR’s West Coast bureau Chief Joe Domanick for a candid conversation about the challenges of being a big-city reform chief, what it takes to change the culture of American policing today, and some key lessons he learned along the way.

 (Note: This interview has been abridged and edited for clarity.)

 The Crime Report: Let’s pretend you’re speaking to a group of reform-minded, big-city chiefs. What would you tell them is essential to understand about changing a department’s culture?

Charlie Beck: That you change culture by everything you do. Just saying that you want a more empathetic, more community-building police department focused on helping communities is only one percent of culture change.

What’s essential is how you interact with people and model your behavior. One of my core beliefs is that the way a chief treats his cops is the way that they will treat the community. If you treat cops like fools, or if you’re over-dependent on harsh discipline, that’s what they’ll learn [and act out on the street]. They’ll see the way that you deal with conflict and adversity, and how you deal with people you don’t agree with, and act accordingly.

TCR: Once you were selected chief, did you actually sit down and write a reform plan?

Charlie Beck

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Photo by Ruperto Miller via Flickr

Beck: Yes. A lot of times managers think: I don’t need that, I know where I’m going. But the organization needs a plan. It needs a road map. We wrote a list of things we wanted to do. Of course, they change all the time. You achieve goals or you modify goals, the circumstances change. You can’t write ‘em on a chalkboard and just leave them up there for eight years. You’ve got to look at them constantly; while doing self-evaluation to realize what you’re good at and what you’re not. And then you’ve got to find people to fill the gaps. That’s really important.

TCR: One of the biggest challenges a reform chief faces is getting buy-in from the rank-and-file and key opinion-makers within a department. How did you go about it?

Beck: I did it the obvious way ─ through the traditional chain-of-command-stuff [from the top down.] But I also believe in managing from the ground up. So I went to roll calls in every station. And in every division for my first three years as chief I worked a partial shift side-by-side with officers in their black and whites. And I did all things that are iconic culturally within the LAPD that demonstrate that we’re all cut from the same basic cloth. For example, I hate to run [in department races] but I do it because it’s part of the culture.

TCR: And what did demonstrating that we’re all in this together get you?

Beck: When you say things or take actions that [many officers] don’t intrinsically agree with, like, for example, undocumented folks should be able to obtain driver’s licenses, they’ll think, “I don’t really get why that’s important to (the chief), but I’ll just wait and see.” In other words, it’s not necessarily that they buy into your ideas. It’s that they buy in to you as having their best interests at heart.

TCR: What else can you say about troop buy-in?

Beck: First, understand that it’s going to be very difficult to change an organization. Then create a bond with a peer leader in one station, and that bond spreads through the whole station. (Finally,) you want to create bonds, but not be thought of as one of the boys, because you’re not, and you have to make that clear If you want to command respect.

TCR: The [LAPD] union resisted many of your [progressive] reforms. But you were able to maneuver between a very liberal police commission and a very conservative union to get body/patrol car cameras, and a new de-escalation shooting policy. Talk a little about that.

Beck: First of all, you’ve got to understand why they want what they want, and you’ve got to know what you want and what you’re willing to settle for. Then you have to understand what the real sticking points are for the union. Second, always gauge who has the most support with the rank-and-file. You or the union?

Who will they follow? Make sure beforehand you’ve got capital in the bank [of good will] among the troops; and that you are as good as you can be on that part.

TCR: What’s the biggest lesson you learned about officer discipline?

Beck: Organizations want to overreact to small things and underreact to big things. That is very bad management. As a chief I want to insure that if officers do serious things from which there is no return, that they have no opportunity to return. So officers have to accept that kind of bottom line and deal with it.

But you also have to recognize what’s important and what’s not. We sometimes spend an enormous amount of resources over very little. You can lose a lot of organizational authority by being seen as the kind of a chief who is more concerned about what color your socks are than whether or not you’re telling the truth in court. You know [the LAPD’s] been that kind of organization before. My lesson to anybody is: Don’t do that.

TCR: What’s the most effective way to deal with a civilian oversight entity, the police commission in your case?

Beck: Involve those individuals with the members of the police department enough so they will grow to understand that these are by and large extremely good-intentioned, good-hearted people. And if they are involved enough, they’ll see just how difficult this job is. And that maybe that expectation of perfect handling of every incident or perfect handling of any incident in my estimation is something that is a false expectation. I think that’s really important.

And I think that’s what you have to look at with police commissioners. They’re going to influence you, but you can also influence them.

TCR: Talk about the political skills and strategies that a chief needs in order to deal with the multitude of players. 

Beck: First, you’ve got to know the lay of the land and that every city is different, and that every political group is different. Then you have to know who are the lever-pullers. Who are the actual people that have influence? That is an art in and of itself.

No one person can truly know that. That’s why you’ve got to surround yourself with people who understand at a really deep level who’s influential in these individual communities. Recognize that there are some people that you’re never going to change. Then you’ve also got to recognize those who, no matter what you do, will think that you’re fantastic. That’s about 10 percent on your end. And then work on the middle.

TCR: And how do you work on the middle?

Beck: First of all, you have to explain your actions as best you can in public so people gain trust. You’ve got to show respect, spend the time necessary─or make sure you have emissaries doing so if you can’t spend the time. In every major community I have a chief’s liaison person who works within that community to have an impact, especially in the African American community.

Then you have to know which divisions are important on the macro level. I have 21 divisions. Three or four of them could be a flashpoint for a riot; that could cause a huge political upheaval with very small incidents. A couple of others in which people have a huge political influence. And then you’ve got to pick the right people to go to these places, [people] who understand the dynamics.

People in these areas have one or two issues that they find immensely important. So you’ve got to recognize what those issues are, whether it’s human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley, or immigrant rights in East LA, or African-American interactions with police. You’ve got to not only know that, but make sure you work to address that with them individually. It’s just about understanding the way they are. If you don’t, then you need to find people who do, and use those people to educate you and to do the outreach in those communities that they have contact with.

TCR: How about recruit training? What are the first things a reform chief should tackle with recruit training so that when those recruits leave they understand the game as the chief wants it to be played?

Beck: When they get out of the academy, recruits are uninformed beyond the initial nuts and bolts of policing. They still have to learn about political savvy, understanding of the goals of the department, etc. What we’ve done to address that is bring the recruit class back after they’ve been out in the field for a year. Then they’re ready to understand the bigger policing picture. Because now they’re not worried about whether they’re going to keep their job, not afraid of the great unknown, what are the radio codes for a purse snatch. They’re just not ready for this stuff when they leave for the academy.

TCR: You’ve managed to keep yourself and your department out of the daily news cycle that was a key feature of the way most of your predecessors operated. Do you think that was effective, and useful?

Beck: I certainly have seen police chiefs and city attorneys who love being in the papers. They crave it. They solicit it. They take every opportunity to put themselves out there. I have no interest in that. I understand that I’m going to be out there plenty anyway.

Being a police chief is a serious job. We’re dealing with life and death, with people’s safety. When you talk, you should be taken seriously. Less is more. If you go out there every time somebody saves a cat out of a tree, clamoring for attention, pretty soon you’re just a loud person clamoring for attention, and people see that. You come out to the public for things that are important, that you do believe in and which you have some depth of understanding and ability to discuss.

TCR: Why do you think it served you well?

Beck: It’s added authority during the times when we do have to use the media. Because we do have to use the media. When I call the press conference I get the press, I get a lot of it. Because it’s not common. I think it gives you a bigger megaphone for the times when you need it. Again, the more you put yourself out there you also create vulnerability. The more times you talk the more opportunities to trip up and all that kind of thing.

TCR: What should future reform chiefs avoid at all costs?

Beck: Thinking the organization is more important than you are. Thinking that it is about you, or that an organization can be sacrificed for your own personal needs. That’s my bottom line. You cannot be seen as somebody who will throw employees or the organization as a whole under the bus in order to save yourself. And I’ve seen people who did that just lose all the authority. You have to avoid that at all costs.

That doesn’t mean you never take action. I’ve arrested employees, all that. But that’s not the same as abandoning somebody for political expediency. You cannot do that.

Joe Domanick

Joe Domanick

That shouldn’t stop you from calling it as it is when something has happened and doesn’t fit the standards of the organization. But you can’t shape the standards of the organization to fit unrealistic expectations.

See also: The LAPD’s Charlie Beck: A Chief for a Transformed City

Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College and West Coast Bureau Chief of The Crime Report, is the author of four books on American Policing and incarceration. His latest, now out in paperback, is “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.” Joe welcomes comments from readers.


Slow Down, Officer: An Experiment in ‘Building a Better Cop’

Can changing the way cops think on the job make communities trust them more? The results of a Seattle experiment that trained officers to gather and process information differently showed participants made fewer arrests and were involved in fewer use-of-force incidents, according to a study released Wednesday.

Police officers who took part in training designed to help them apply the principles of procedural justice to their daily routines were involved in fewer use-of-force incidents, and made fewer arrests than their peers, researchers found.

In a study released Wednesday in Criminology & Public Policy, a journal published by the American Society of Criminology, randomly selected officers were trained in what researchers termed a “slow-thinking” approach that encouraged them to modify how they gathered, processed and responded to information in areas with high incidences of crime.

The experiment was conducted in Seattle between May and November 2013, during a time when the local police department was experiencing a high turnover in leadership and was under a federal monitor. A group of officers were randomly selected to participate from among a pool of those who worked in high-risk “hot spots.”

“The goal of the program was to influence the way that officers think about even the most mundane aspects of their job, potentially reducing the frequency with which officers engaged in behavior that could be perceived by the public as unjust,” the study said.

During program meetings, officers were prompted to reflect on their thought processes and actions during relatively benign encounters, and supervisors were trained to engage the officers in the concept of procedural justice, which is based on the principle of treating all citizens with fairness and dignity, including those suspected of criminal behavior.

Reformers both inside and outside police ranks believe procedural justice is a critical factor in rebuilding trust and legitimacy for police in often hostile communities.

The six-month experiment was designed as a “low-risk, low-intensity” program, in which participating officers could determine when and for how long the sessions lasted–and were invited to be candid with supervisory personnel who conducted the trainings.

“The goal was to remind officers that authority does not always perfectly coincide with total control,” the authors of the study wrote. “Allowing the officer to speak freely did not mean that the sergeant was not in charge of the meeting, in the same way that allowing citizens to speak does not need to diminish an officer’s control over a situation.”

To assess the results of the experiment, researchers compared the behavior of officers participating in the study with a control group of non-participating officers, using traditional performance measurements such as arrests. (They noted that there were no standardized criteria for measuring performance according to procedural justice principles.

The study found that in the six weeks following a supervisory meeting, participating officers were “less likely (than non-participating officers) to resolve incidents with an arrest and less likely to be involved in use-of-force incidents.”

The authors added: “Furthermore, we found that the largest reduction in arrests occurred among officers who worked beats where there was a moderate level of ‘predicted risk,’ which we defined by using the frequency with which other officers used force, were injured, or were the subject of citizen complaints after working in that area.”

The authors said their results prove that “a relatively minor supervisory intervention may cause substantive changes in how police and citizens interact with each other.”

The study, entitled “Can You Build a Better Cop? Experimental Evidence on Supervision, Training, and Policing in the Community,” was conducted by Emily Owens, of the University of California, Irvine; David Weisburd of George Mason University and Hebrew University; Karen L. Amendola of the Police Foundation; and Geoffery P. Alpert of the University of South Carolina and Griffith University.

A full copy is available for download here.

This summary was prepared by Deputy TCR Editor Victoria Mckenzie. She welcomes readers’ comments.


‘Proactive Policing’ Credited With Crime Reductions

A National Academy of Sciences panel praises such tactics as “hot spots policing,” problem-oriented policing and “focused deterrence.” There were mixed results for “stop-question-frisk” tactics and broken-windows policing, and “the lack of data on the role of racial bias in proactive policing was startling.”

Several strategies used by police to prevent crimes have proved successful at crime reduction, at least in the short term, and most of them do not harm communities’ attitudes toward police, concluded a report issued Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The committee that produced the study said there is insufficient evidence to draw strong conclusions on the role of racial bias in the use of proactive policing strategies.

“The committee felt that the lack of data on the role of racial bias in proactive policing was startling,” said criminologist David Weisburd of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, committee chair. “It’s critically important that we understand not simply the impacts of proactive policing on racial outcomes, but also how race may impact the adoption of specific types of proactive policing.”

The report examined so-called proactive policing practices, which differ from traditional reactive approaches that focus on responding to crime after the fact and on answering citizen requests for police service.

Most evidence on the tactics involve localized impacts of crime prevention and on short-term crime-prevention effects. “Hot spots policing,” in which officers target locations where crime is concentrated, produces short-term crime reduction effects without simply displacing crime into surrounding areas, the committee found.

Such programs also have beneficial crime reduction effects in adjacent areas. Several studies suggest that “problem-oriented policing programs” also lead to short-term reductions in crime.

The problem-oriented policing concept seeks to identify and analyze the underlying causes of crime problems and to respond using a variety of methods and tactics, from improving lighting and repairing fences to cleaning up parks and improving recreational opportunities for youth.

The committee also looked at the “focused deterrence” tactic, which it said show consistent impact in reducing gang violence, street crime driven by disorderly drug markets, and repeat offending by individuals.

Focused deterrence attempts to deter crime among repeat offenders by understanding underlying dynamics that lead to crime and by using what the committee called a “blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions.”

There were mixed results from controversial “stop-question-frisk” stops in which suspects are questioned, frisked, and often searched. The panel said that the tactic had short-term crime reduction effects when it targets high-risk repeat offenders in places experiencing violence or serious gun crimes.

There was less evidence on the long term impact of using “stop-question-frisk.”

The committee found that so-called broken windows policing, a strategy of addressing small instances of disorder before they overwhelm a neighborhood, has little or no impact on crime when used aggressively to increase  misdemeanor arrests. There has been short-term crime reduction using “place-based, problem-solving practices to reduce social and physical disorder,” the panel said.

On the issue of race, the committee acknowledged that there are likely to be large racial disparities in the volume and nature of police-citizen encounters. The evidence so far does not “establish conclusively whether and to what extent such racial disparities are indicators of statistical prediction, racial animus, implicit bias, or other causes,” the committee said.

More research on the topic is urgently needed, said the experts, to better understand the “potential negative consequences of proactive policing, and so that communities and police departments may be better equipped to align police behaviors with values of equity and justice.”

Looking at community-oriented policing generally, the committee said it helps lead to modest improvements in the public’s view of policing in the short term.

The study was financed by the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

In addition to Weisburd, the study committee included Hassan Aden of the Virginia-based Aden Group; Anthony Braga of Northeastern University; Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation; Philip Cook of Duke University; Phillip Atiba Goff of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Policing Equity; and  Rachel Harmon of the University of Virginia Law School.

Also on the committee: Amelia Haviland of Carnegie Mellon University; Cynthia Lum of George Mason University; Charles Manski of Northwestern University; Stephen Mastrofski of George Mason University; Tracy Meares of Yale Law School; Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University; Emily Owens of the University of California Irvine; Stephen Raphael of the University of California Berkeley; Jerry Ratcliffe of Temple University; and Tom Tyler of Yale Law School.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.


The End of Policing? 

The drive to diversify police forces and the renewed interest in community policing are transforming law enforcement across the country. But a provocative new book by a Brooklyn College sociology professor argues that these efforts don’t address the underlying problems. He explains why in a conversation with TCR.

Policing in the United States is in the midst of transformative changes, partly spurred by the well-publicized officer-involved shootings around the country—but also as a consequence of generational change, as police ranks open up to a more diversified group of recruits and as departments modernize their training. But Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, argues that little will happen unless police agencies rethink their roles in public safety.

In The End of Policing, Vitale offers a different framework for thinking about how law enforcement relates to the communities it serves. In a chat with TCR’s Isidoro Rodriguez, he explains why the current policing model perpetuates racial bias, why he believes community policing is misconceived, and what he means by the provocative title he chose for his book,


Alex S. Vitale

The Crime Report: The title of your book will attract a lot of attention. But do you really think that policing needs to end? 

 Alex Vitale: The title has a kind of double meaning. On the one hand, it means should we look at a complete rethinking of policing. But, also, within that, what is the purpose of policing? What is it that we have asked police to do functionally?

The book is really about trying to lay out a process of interrogating our over-reliance on policing, and using evidence-informed alternatives to try and reduce that reliance. And behind that is the understanding that policing is inherently a problematic tool for cities to use to solve problems because it comes with a legacy of reproducing inequality, especially along the lines of race. Also, it relies on the tools of coercion, force, and punitiveness to solve problems; and that brings with it a lot of potential collateral consequences that we should be looking to avoid whenever possible.

TCR: The punitive aspect of policing is a key issue today. Departments across the country continue to face controversy as a result of their officers’ often aggressive methods. As a result, many have implemented programs such as Crisis Intervention Training and placed new emphasis on de-escalation and conflict resolution. Are these the right ways to go?

AV: First of all, a lot of departments aren’t making meaningful changes. They’re not actively embracing significant new training regimes. My view is that, ultimately, training police to better do things that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place is not the ultimate solution. If we could really dial back the things we ask police to do, then we could talk about what kind of training and protocols would be best for doing what’s left. Police is the unit of government that we rely on to be able to use force.

It’s a mistake to think that, somehow, we can just train police to be nice and friendly all the time. Rather than creating this idea that we can make the police nicer, we should really just reduce the number of things we ask them to do.

TCR: One of the main areas where police are taking on more responsibilities than many feel they should is policing the mentally ill. Should we take the responsibility for this population off the shoulders of police who often aren’t even trained to deal with them?

AV: Absolutely. Instead of trying to fine-tune the police response, we need to just end the police response to most of these calls. And we can just look at the United Kingdom as an example of how to move in that direction. There, when someone in a family is having a mental health crisis and a family member calls for help, they call a phone number that’s tied to the national health service. It has nothing to do with the police. A trained mental health nurse practitioner, or other trained mental health worker, responds to that call.

Now, if there is a concern, or an articulation of violence, than it may be necessary for some police backup. But that call is handled as a health crisis call. The UK police don’t want to take those calls, are happy to have mental health professionals doing that work, and are angry that mental health services in the UK are being dialed back and more of the burden is falling on them. And, frankly, there are a lot of cops in the United States who think it’s a mistake to send police on those calls. They don’t want to do them;, they don’t believe that what they’re doing helps; and it’s incredibly fraught.

TCR: Why is there such reticence on the part of American police forces to adopt international examples of successful alternative policing methods like those practiced in the UK?

AV: Because it has nothing to do with the police. This is not their decision to make. This is a decision that’s been made by political leaders not to fund adequate community based mental health services due to a bipartisan consensus around the politics of austerity.

TCR: In the debate on how best to deal with the mentally ill, there’s a strong push for diversion methods such as mental health courts. Do you see that as a successful step of reform?

AV: The courts are not always that successful in diverting people. Whether it’s mental health courts, trafficking courts, or drug courts, they rarely provide the services that are often most needed in these situations: stable supportive housing and access to a stable income, whether it’s through employment or government transfers.

End of PolicingThey engage in a lot of therapeutic regimes, which may provide some aid in helping people stabilize, but don’t totally do so in a way that avoids future interactions with these systems.

Instead, we see a lot of churning of people through these courts, through therapeutic regimes and, also, through emergency rooms, police lockups, and jails—often at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per person. I think what we should be looking at is not pre-incarceration diversion, but pre-arrest diversion. Instead of limiting access to drug treatment to people that get arrested, why not have drug treatment on demand for anyone who needs it? Why not have actual adequate community based mental health services?

Then, if we have those services in place, and there are people who are still producing problems in the community, let’s talk about how to address those individuals from a comprehensive standpoint. Instead, we make no services available, and then we criminalize people for engaging in antisocial behavior.

TCR: Another issue your book addresses is the militarization of the police, both in tactics and the supply of military-grade hardware, a reality memorialized by the protests in Ferguson. Please explain your perspective.

 AV: Political violence is a political problem, and it needs to be solved in the political arena. But, too often, rather than addressing those political concerns, our political leaders hand it off to the police to deal with. That leaves, again, police in a no-win situation where they feel the need to use force to resolve what are ultimately political problems. The other thing is that militarization of policing is about a lot more than humvees and tactical vests. It’s about a whole ethos that has become widespread in policing in the United States. About politicians telling police to wage a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, and a war on disorder and then giving them budgets to buy military equipment and create paramilitary units with training regimes that treat the public as enemies to be neutralized.

We have seen that ethos at work in some of the most horrible abuses of policing. So what is to be done? Quit telling the police they’re at war with the public, scale down the kinds of thing that they’re being asked to deal with, and then think about what kinds of tools, training, and technologies are best for accomplishing that. In my mind, that would result in a vast reduction in the use of militarized equipment and training.

TCR: In your book, you point out that poor and minority populations almost exclusively shoulder the burden of overpolicing. Why?

 AV: We persist in a fantasy of color blindness that says the police response is merely a professional technocratic response to where the crime is, but ignore the ways in which our society has been structured along racialized lines and the ways in which poverty in the United States is growing and becoming more entrenched. This includes a lot of white rural communities that are suffering from opioids and other kinds of crime problems.

Our political leaders have chosen to define those communities as criminal rather than as communities that are in deep distress because of entrenched joblessness, discrimination, geographic isolation, etc. If they were to admit that the problems in those communities were the result of market failures, rather than individual moral failures, then they would have to intervene in markets in ways that those who put them in office don’t want them to. To address the problems of inequality in any way other than policing is politically unacceptable in our current political environment.

TCR: As you write in your book, today’s policing issues have deep historical roots—in some cases as far back as the 17th century. Does this history hold any lessons for policing today?

AV: Our popular culture, which is the main source of information that people have on policing, is suffused with the myth of police as neutral, professional crime fighters. In the book, I discuss things like Adam 12, which was created in the wake of the Watts riots, as a tool that the Los Angeles Police Department was actively using to restore public confidence in police along really invented lines. That has become the way police are portrayed primarily in our popular culture. What we don’t see, are the concrete ways in which the police reproduce enforced ghetto segregation, Jim Crow, and carry out the war on drugs and terror along racial lines.

TCR: In your book you describe the “hero narrative” that dominates police thinking about their role. Does that need to be addressed at the start of police training?

 AV: Most young people that I know, who have wanted to go into law enforcement, are motivated by a very real and genuine desire to help their communities. They believe that policing is the way to do this. What they don’t understand is the profound legacy of the structural impediments to using policing to truly solve community problems. So, police officers are often very frustrated in their jobs, because what they thought was going to be both exciting and helpful is bureaucratic and pointless. If you read memoirs from police officers, you often get “we spent years arresting people for drugs, and yet everyone in the community could get drugs any time they wanted them.” It’s the utter pointlessness of the enforcement.

TCR: The motivation to help the community is behind many police departments’ renewed drive for adapting community policing methods as a means of creating safer and more effective policing practices. Is this a step in the right direction?

AV: No. I think that community policing merely expands our reliance on police to deal with social problems that would be better handled in other ways. As long as the police are asked to wage simultaneous wars on drugs, terror, disorder, and crime, they cannot do this in a friendly and respectful way. And what the police consider to be the community excludes large portions of these neighborhoods and consigns them to being the enemy.

TCR: So much of your book emphasizes taking money out of criminal justice and putting it into viable progressive social programs. In your opinion, on a party level, is there any push for this kind of monetary change on either side of the fence?

Isidoro Rodriguez

AV: No. My hope is that the theatrical excesses of the Trump administration will create more political space to talk about the kinds of reforms and shifts in social spending that will actually make a difference. But I don’t see too much of that in the works among existing big city politicians. New York City Council members have written me letters, some elected officials came to my book launch in New York, but we have yet to see a true political tendency.

Of course, there are community- based organizations all across the country making these same points. What we need to do is bring together those groups, critical academic researchers, and progressive political leaders, and turn this into a real political movement.

 Isidoro Rodriguez is a staff writer for The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.