Incarceration is not an effective solution for cities faced with the challenge of homelessness, 250 of the nation’s top chiefs and sheriffs concluded in a recent conference. In a report on the conference, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) offers 11 recommendations for change.
While homelessness may not seem like a law enforcement problem – nowhere is being homeless a crime in and of itself – police departments often find themselves saddled with the issue.
Homeless individuals both disproportionately suffer violent crime and commit crimes at a disproportionate rate, bringing them into contact with law enforcement 24 hours a day.
In a new report, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the nation’s leading think tank on policing issues, offers 11 recommendations that it says can help police agencies avoid turning the justice system into what one sheriff called a “dumping ground” for the homeless, through innovative partnerships with local governments and social service providers .
“Community members frequently complain when they can’t use their parks or other public spaces without having to navigate around people who are living there,” writes Chuck Wexler, the report’s author.
“In these circumstances, residents don’t call the health department or social services. They call the police.”
At the conference, sheriffs, senior officers, and police chiefs from around the country shared success stories and best practices from their jurisdictions.
Conference attendees agreed that arresting homeless individuals was not an effective solution to the issue of people living on the streets.
Such a response only turns the criminal justice system into “a dumping ground for a social problem,” according to Sheriff Robert Gualtieri from Pinellas County, Fla.
“For the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness, arrest and incarceration should be a last resort, not a first option for minor offenses,” the report says.
“Providing housing, treatment, counseling, and other services is a far more effective approach for most people who are homeless.”
This is because homelessness is often rooted in mental illness, substance abuse, and a lack of affordable housing – problems that do not go away when an arrest occurs.
Conference attendees provided examples from their own jurisdictions of innovative police-community partnerships that addressed the problem.
In San Francisco, for instance, the police department created a multi-agency command center that responds to calls involving homelessness. When calls come in, officials triage them to determine which agency is most appropriate to tackle the situation at hand.
This approach allows homeless individuals to access the wraparound services, including medical, legal, substance abuse, and mental health programming, that they may need to improve their living conditions.
Changes within police departments make a difference as well, the report states.
Officers should receive training that equips them to interact with people experiencing homeless so that they can respond to situations appropriately and with compassion.
Some jurisdictions have already taken this step: the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department instructs officers in its Field Training Program to contact a member of the homeless community once every shift, even if only to introduce themselves.
This practice familiarizes new recruits with homeless individuals and helps them comprehend the nature of homelessness.
The report also cites the success of a number of data-driven approaches, which can better inform law enforcement agencies about the nature of the population they are tasked with protecting.
In Vacaville, Ca., Community Response Unit officers collect information about homeless individuals they encounter using a survey on their smartphones, while jurisdictions such as Colorado Spring, Co., are using technology to map homeless encampments, enabling officers to respond during severe weather when evacuations may be necessary.
Other recommendations include the creation of units specifically staffed to respond to individuals experiencing homelessness, often called Homeless Outreach Teams (HOT), and homeless courts designed to provide assistance to certain categories of low-level and first-time offenders.
HOT officers should be carefully selected based on criteria such as practical experience, emotional intelligence, and patience. Homeless courts, the report says, can more effectively handle the kind of quality-of-life violations people typically accused of and ultimately break the cycle of repeated arrests through the provision of treatment services.
In implementing these and other reforms, regional cooperation is key, because one jurisdiction’s actions often ripple out to affect the jurisdictions surrounding it.
The report addresses multiple challenges to implementing its recommendations, including the difficulty of building connections between agencies. Even when both partners are willing and enthusiastic, laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which restricts the amount and types of information that can be shared between agencies, can act as stumbling blocks to cooperation.
But certain jurisdictions have come up with innovative solutions to such challenges.
Long Beach, Ca., for instance, drafted an administrative regulation that deems the city of Long Beach a single legal entity for data-sharing purposes, allowing its agencies to openly communicate with one another.
Another hurdle is amassing the funds necessary to establish or expand social services. But the report claims that costs upfront will save reform-minded jurisdictions money later.
Portland State University analyzed Portland’s Service Coordination Team, which works with individuals who are homeless and have had criminal justice encounters, and found that every dollar invested in the program saved $13 in crime and justice system costs.
“It is unrealistic to expect that these changes will happen overnight, and even the most effective programs will not make the problem of homelessness disappear altogether,” the report concludes.
“However, with concerted and coordinated efforts of police and sheriff’s departments and their partner agencies, communities can experience real success (in) reducing suffering and distress among individuals who are vulnerable, and (increase) community safety and overall quality of life.”
Elena Schwartz is a TCR news intern. She welcomes readers’ comments.
Training cops to avoid excessive use-of-force is only part of the challenge. The hardest part is learning a different mindset about policing—in the face of society expectations and peer pressure, experts and senior officers tell TCR.
In the wake of well-publicized cases of excessive force and officer-involved shootings, police departments in major cities like New York and Los Angeles have rolled out popular new training programs meant for both veteran officers and recruits.
Emphasizing de-escalation, conflict resolution, and empathy over the more force-oriented practices of the past, these programs may, indeed, be a step in the right direction. However members of the criminal justice community still warn that, while training is important, it alone is not going to stem police misconduct and, in some cases, might be part of the problem.
“Training becomes a simple solution,” Seth Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former Tallahassee police officer, said in an interview with The Crime Report.
“Whenever we’re talking about something as complicated as human dynamics, as complicated as racial interactions throughout the history of this country, as complicated as policing itself, I think we should be very skeptical of simple solutions.”
According to Stoughton who, as an officer, trained other officers and created policies to govern the use of new technologies, training may help─but it does little to change the underlying systems that govern police behavior.
Though officers may receive some form of de-escalation training at the academy, a major problem is that this can often be immediately contradicted by the guidance they receive from their peers after moving into the field.
“Every cop has heard some version of, ‘Forget everything that you learned in training, now it’s time to learn how we do it on the street,’” said Stoughton.
Certain departments have met this contradiction with a Field Training Officer (FTO) program, which assigns newly sworn-in officers with a veteran who guides and evaluates them based on the principles they have just learned at the academy.
Ideally, these programs would reinforce any de-escalation training new officers may have received, and steer them away from habits that violate the policies and procedures they’ve just learned.
However, Stoughton is quick to warn that policies and procedures are different for every department in the country, as are their training programs.
“The variety from agency to agency can be staggering,” said Stoughton.
According to a 2016 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are roughly 18,000 state, county, and local law enforcement agencies in the US today. These range from large departments like the New York City, to small, local agencies with 50 officers or less.
And with no national standards, two departments in two neighboring towns may have completely different rules for procedure and training.
Creating a ‘National De-Escalation Model’
That, says Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), is one of the greatest challenges to changing the culture of modern policing.
“The kind of policies, the kind of training, tactics, and culture that we are talking about are really significant changes to the way we think,” said Wexler, whose organization is currently seeking to establish a national de-escalation model.
“90 percent of these agencies are smaller agencies, and they aren’t easy to influence in terms of changing policy.”
In fact, a 2017 study from APM Reports shows that, despite growing support for de-escalation training, only 8 states have officially mandated it for all of their officers. 34 other states have no de-escalation requirement. While APM Reports reveals that 24 of those states could have mandated de-escalation administratively, it found that most conduct no─or very little─de-escalation training at all.
In most of the training that does occur, Wexler believes the emphasis is misplaced.
In a survey conducted by PERF of nearly 300 agencies, they were asked what percentage of time was spent on firearms training versus de-escalation, crisis intervention, and communication.
“(We found) the lion’s share of the time is spent on firearms,” Wexler said.
According to PERF’s 2015 survey, among more than 280 law enforcement agencies, new recruits received an average of 58 hours of firearms training, and only eight hours of de-escalation training.
In some cases, it could even be as much as two weeks of firearms training. The survey also found that the fragmented nature of the training, where different elements such as using a firearm and the legal issues governing lethal force, are discussed often days, weeks, or even months apart, makes it difficult for officers to understand how everything fits together.
To tackle this issue, in 2016, PERF released it’s Guiding Principles on Use of Force, a report detailing the methods necessary to changing conventional thinking on how the police handle certain confrontations, particularly those that involve the seriously mentally ill who do not have a firearm.
Following this report, they created the Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) training guide, available online for any department’s use, which implements those methods through six training modules emphasizing critical thinking, situational awareness, and informed assessment.
“It’s all about education,” said Wexler.
For Tom Wilson, director of PERF’s Center for Applied Research and Management, part of that education means replacing what he says has become the traditional decision model of most departments today: described as the “use-of-force continuum.”
“The use-of-force continuum assumes if someone has a rock I use a baton, if someone has a knife I use a gun, increasing the level of force,” said Wilson, in an interview with TCR.
A 24-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County, Maryland Police Department, Wilson insists that this process only exacerbates a potentially explosive situation, especially when considering interactions with people suffering from a serious mental illness.
“If someone is mentally ill and they have a knife, and you pull out a gun and start screaming at them, you raise their anxiety level,” said Wilson.
“So, rather than dropping the knife, they start to come toward you, which is the exact opposite of what you anticipated.”
Sadly, these sort of scenarios have become all too common.
A 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement. In this year alone, according to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force analysis database, 68 mentally ill men and women have been shot and killed by the police.
Decision-making systems like the use-of-force continuum are directly linked to these statistics and yet, unfortunately, they are still the norm among many police departments in this country.
“We call them lawful but awful,” said Wilson.
“Lawful in the sense that they fit within the supreme court decision of Graham v Connor; awful in that the outcome is not what anyone wanted.”
The 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor, declared that an officer’s use of force is considered constitutional if it would be considered reasonable, considering the facts and circumstances of the case, from the perspective of anofficer on the scene.
The Court added that this “calculus of reasonableness” must take into account that police officers often have to make split-second decisions, in often tense and unpredictable circumstances, about the amount of force that is necessary for any given situation.
“This reasoning is why cases where an officer is brought to court, or even faces charges, for a use-of-force incident are so rare,” said Wilson.
It is also why many police departments still function on a shoot-or-don’t-shoot principle, effectively drawing a line in the sand no matter the circumstances.
Using PERF’s training module and philosophy, Wexler and Wilson insist that officers can be trained out of these outdated─and dangerous─practices and come to understand that, in a lot of situations, there is another way of doing things.
“We say there are some situations where, rather than increasing the level of force, you use another option, you step back,” said Wilson.
However, while the ICAT program may represent the best tenets of a new and necessary national police training model, both men agree it can only succeed if it occurs alongside a simultaneously national, and equally necessary, shift in American police culture: changing the idea of police as warriors to, instead, peacekeepers.
Alex Vitale, professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, warns that changing policing’s war mentality might be easier said than done.
“There is a very toxic thin-blue-line ideology in American policing,” said Vitale in an interview with TCR.
“It has these components that say that the only thing that is holding society together is the constant threat of armed force, and that it’s the police that make civilization possible.”
Vitale points out that this “war” narrative is maintained on a political level, with police constantly being told by politicians that they are waging a war on crime, a war on drugs, and a war on terrorism and disorder.
All of this feeds into an accepted mentality that the only thing people will understand is brute force. And while he agrees that changes to training and ethos are, indeed, necessary, Vitale believes that effectively changing those things will be hard so long as the mission and scope of policing remains the same, especially when considering the most heavily armed and tactically trained branch of any department: SWAT.
“Look at what heavily armed SWAT teams actually do,” said Vitale.
“They’re not fighting terrorism, they’re not going after barricaded suspects, they’re not fighting off armored bank robbers, they’re serving low-level drug warrants in poor communities.”
The SWAT Toll
These paramilitary units are a representation of the popular, and ineffective, model of American policing. A 2017 examination by the New York Times revealed that thousands of these raids, in which officers issue warrants through forced entry into homes called “dynamic entries,” occur every year and that, while their toll has been mostly ignored by governments at all levels, they have continually led to avoidable deaths and multi-million dollar legal settlements.
The same piece reports that between 2010 and 2016, at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers have died in such raids. On average, most of the searches yielded little more than misdemeanor level stashes, or nothing at all. Despite these numbers and results, the Times found that 13 states have still enacted laws authorizing dynamic entries, and another 13 have “blessed them” through rulings by appellate courts.
“It’s gone a long way towards fostering the kind of military ethos in policing that has contributed to some horrible shooting incidents,” said Vitale.
Vitale also points out that SWAT forces are usually not required to complete any form of force reduction training at all. Instead, especially in smaller departments, they do exactly the opposite: receiving additional military grade hardware, worst case scenario training, and actually training with former military special forces units.
Elite units like SWAT are not the only ones contributing to the prevalent military narrative of policing in this country.
The very recruitment methods of many departments around the country utilize the same dialogue to draw in applicants. Recruitment videos for departments such as the Newport Beach Police Department are loaded with heart-pounding music, camouflage-wearing officers yelling and in pursuit of criminals, attack dogs, assault rifles, and fight training.
Even a video for Newport Beach Explorers, cadets aged 14-21, runs like an action movie and focuses intensively on weapons and tactics.
This contributes to a cycle of violence that puts the lives of both civilians and officers at risk. In fact, a 2017 analysis by the Washington Post found that law enforcement agencies just having access to military hardware can lead to more violent behavior from its officers.
“It’s a frontier mentality,” said Vitale. “a Cowboys-and-Indians mindset.”
However, according to Sue Rahr, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, that mentality can be changed by altering the paramilitary environment that new recruits face from the moment they first step into the academy.
It can start with a simple change in decoration.
“When I first started, there was a display case at the lobby of the academy filled with police batons, handcuffs, and commendations,” said Rahr, in an interview with TCR.
“We replaced it with a mural of the preamble and Article I of the Constitution.”
In addition, Rahr got rid of the myriad of posters that continually warned and reminded recruits of the dangers of the job. While she strongly agrees that recruits must be made aware of the very real risks they may face, Rahr also warns that repetitive messages like these can further ingrain new officers with the false bias that they are stepping out into a war zone, one with enemies on all sides.
“It favors possibility over probability,” said Rahr.
A 33-year veteran officer and former chief of the Spokane Police Department, Rahr is all too familiar with the war narrative of policing that sprung up in the late 1970’s, with police seeing themselves as soldiers during a time of rising urban crime rates and the crack epidemic.
Changing the Military Mindset
However, she insists that policing is not the military, and has taken steps to move her academy from the traditional, boot camp style of the past, to something a bit more collegial.
“Before, recruits would snap to attention and salute their superiors,” said Rahr.
“Now they are expected to start a conversation, even a casual one.”
In addition, Rahr created the LEED model of training: Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity. The idea being that people are more likely to cooperate with the police if they believe they are being treated fairly.
This type of environment reminds recruits that they must know how to talk to people and that this is one of the most important skills an officer actually needs to succeed at the job. Recruits are also given a copy of the constitution, further reminding them of their responsibilities to the communities they serve.
In the auditorium, an excerpt of Plato’s definition of “guardians” is emblazoned on the wall: In a republic that honors the core of democracy — the greatest amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy.
But while Rahr’s approach represents one of the most forward-thinking programs today, and has been embraced statewide in Washington, some among the criminal justice community remain skeptical, raising concerns that tactics like hers may put officers in greater harm’s way.
Is Restraint Always Healthy?
“There’s a real issue now about whether officers are being unnecessarily endangered and whether officers can protect themselves,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a retired and decorated NYPD officer and professor of Law and Police Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in an interview with TCR.
In addition, O’Donnell points out that there is possibly a larger question of whether officers are even inserting themselves into problem situations when necessary or are, instead, just avoiding them entirely.
“Police departments are being awarded gold medals for avoiding conflicts and I think that’s a real concern,” said O’Donnell.
This is best exemplified in New York, where a 2016 poll by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association found that 97 percent of 6,000 respondents believe that they might be demonized and condemned as “bad cops” for engaging in any sort of conflict whatsoever. For cities that have real public safety issues, O’Donnell feels that stigma like this can result in departments that are dangerously ineffectual and disengaged.
“It’s starting to become restraint above all else and restraint to an extent that it’s a danger to themselves and even other people if the police are unwilling to protect themselves,” said O’Donnell.
In fact, a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of officers polled are reluctant to use force when it is appropriate, while 72 percent have become less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious. O’Donnell also warns that, while new ideas about changing the culture and training methods in policing may be encouraging, they may also rely on what he calls a fantastical opinion of a recruiting pool that doesn’t exist.
According to an report by NBC News, police hiring is at an all-time low due to diminishing pay, high risk, and the recently popularized negative image of police in general. And while a 2017 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the growth rate for police and detectives at seven percent the national average, the bottom 10th percentile of an officer’s salary is still only roughly $35,000.
This is poor incentive for a job that ensures long hours, offers few to no holidays, and that recent FBI statistics have found to be increasing in danger.
“Policing is in an extremely bad place,” said O’Donnell.
These seemingly dire circumstances are only exacerbated when considering that many today feel, training or not, that police are taking on responsibilities beyond their capabilities, especially when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.
“The police alone are not the right responders,” said Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator for Community Access, a New York based nonprofit that assists individuals with mental illness, in an interview with TCR.
Today, when a mentally ill person is in crisis, 911 is almost always the number called. And while the NYPD has embraced Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) tactics of de-escalation and conflict resolution, Rabinowitz warns that the challenges it faces may be indicative of broader problems.
“CIT is going well with the NYPD, but police have two problems: they’re not getting the newly trained CIT officers over to those calls and, under police protocol, the first officer on the scene takes the call, whether he has CIT training or not,” said Rabinowitz.
As Rabinowitz explains it, the average 911 calls can last anywhere from 17 seconds to four minutes. In that time, a crisis call has to be routed to a sergeant at the precinct where it occurs, that sergeant then has to find a CIT officer and move that officer over to the call. All of this takes time that she insists people in crisis often do not have.
“If you have to wait that time, police are not going to be there in time,” said Rabinowitz.
When and if officers do arrive, the current protocol of the first officer on the scene being in charge can often result in life threatening mistakes. This was the case in the shooting death of Dwayne Jeune, a mentally ill Brooklyn man wielding a bread knife, where, according to the Gotham Gazette, of the four officers who responded, the one without CIT training pulled the trigger.
Rabinowitz warns that even with CIT training, mistakes are made. Thus far, he notes, there has been little progress..
“The police started their training in June 2015. Two years after the training, from July 2017 to now, less than a year, there have been five deaths,” said Rabinowitz.
“Training alone is not going to do it.”
Co-Responding to 911 Calls
Instead, she points to cities like Denver, where co-response teams of officers and social workers are responding to 911 calls together, providing more opportunity for de-escalation and less risk of violence or death when confronting mentally ill individuals in crisis.
Rabinowitz and Community Access also advocate for the creation of diversion centers, such as those under Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Bureau, as well as a similar program in Florida, that provide police with an option other than jail for those in crisis.
In New York, according to an article in The Observer, litigation has begun to establish a different phone number people can call for situations concerning mentally ill persons in distress, similar to 411, 911, or 311.
“The whole goal is to get these crisis calls out of the hands of the police,” said Rabinowitz.
However, while programs and practices such as these are necessary, they currently only exist in a very small number of states and communities, and when crises arise the public still turns to the police for help. A 2017 report by the NYPD estimated that it responded to roughly 400 mental health crisis calls a day, more than 12,000 a month.
In San Diego, mental health crisis calls have increased by 92 percent since 2009, according to an article by KPBS.org.
In the face of a failed mental health system, police are the only ones picking up the slack. That seems to be accepted stoically as something that does with the job.
The Camden Model
“Over time, police are going to wear many hats. It’s the reality of the profession,” said Lieutenant Kevin Lutz, deputy director of the Camden County College Police Academy, in an interview with TCR.
Since 2013, when the shift began, the Camden Police Department has embraced that reality, doing everything possible to become a department that their community can trust and rely upon for any situation.
At the academy, officers are trained to use guns and handcuffs as only a last resort, focusing instead on the de-escalation tactics and communication skills recommended by PERF ICAT initiative and used by major departments around the country.
For Lutz, just putting these methods into practice has led to a shift in mindset.
“Our officers today are a new breed. They’re proud to talk, to de-escalate, to be protectors instead of warriors,” said Lutz.
This change was exemplified in 2015, when Camden Police confronted a man brandishing a steak knife and threatening the patrons of a Crown Fried Chicken. When police arrived, the man was ordered to drop the knife, when he did not and began to walk away, instead of engaging in physical confrontation, officers simply followed him.
Forming a cordon around him, they cleared the street ahead and repeated the order until, eventually, the man conceded. The video of the incident exemplifies the best possible result for what this new change in police culture can, and should, yield.
Since then, according to The New York Times, the Camden police have continued to evolve their life-saving practices, recently mandating a new “scoop and go” policy, in which officers are required to drive gunshot victims to the hospital themselves, rather than waiting for an ambulance, if the situation demands it.
Officers walking the beat are required to knock on doors, introduce themselves, and establish relationships with community members.
“The department has become very transparent,” said Dan Keashan, Director of Communications for Camden City Hall.
“Lieutenants are on a first name basis with the community, and they all walk a beat.”
Since implementing these new practices and policies, Keashan reports that excessive force complaints have fallen from 65 in 2014 to only 15 as of 2017. According to a yearly report by Camden County Police Department’s Strategic Analysis Unit, the overall crime rates have dropped 23 percent since 2013.
And the department’s initiatives don’t stop there.
“Internal Affairs makes house calls to people who don’t even complain,” said Keashan.
“They go out and conduct surveys.”
Keashan explains that these surveys help the Camden County Police better serve their community and get back to the roots of policing, to the idea of the job as that of “public servant.”
“We’re putting out a good product,” said Sgt. Raphael Thornton, lead instructor for the Camden County Academy, and a 22-year veteran of the force.
“Officers who imagine themselves as peacekeepers.”
It is a “product” that serves as an example of the benefits that come with embracing and enacting this new mindset and culture of policing. And while officers like Thornton and Lutz agree that more programs and facilities are needed so that communities can one day have other options, both maintain that, until that time, police can and will be wholly capable of meeting whatever challenges may arise.
“If not us, then who?” asked Thornton.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a regular contributor to The Crime Report on policing issues. He welcomes comments from readers.
Officers in Salem, Ore., are “problem-solvers” on the front line of a burgeoning homelessness problem. They say the city needs public storage for homeless people to temporarily secure their belongings and sobering stations where people can recover from alcohol, meth or opioids.
Faith-based organizations, advocacy groups and shelters serve Salem, Ore.’s growing homeless population, but police are increasingly filling a mostly unnoticed gap in helping get people on their feet, reports the Salem Statesman-Journal. They’re on the front line of homelessness, responding to welfare checks of unconscious individuals, resolving disputes without arrests and checking in on their “regulars” downtown and around Marion Square Park, making sure they’re making it to drug treatment sessions and other programs. Statistically, only a small percentage of interactions between police and the homeless community begin with crime reports. Most interactions involve officers performing social work and community “problem solving,” said Sgt. Kevin Hill, who oversees the Downtown Enforcement Team.
These officers have a unique perspective on Salem’s homeless crisis, one that often leaves them frustrated, yet spotlights needs and solutions that police say ought to be adopted. They include: open sobering stations where people can recover from alcohol, meth or opioids and get plugged into treatment programs and transitional housing; provide public storage for homeless people to safely secure their belongings so they are able to attend counseling sessions, parole and probation meetings, court hearings and housing appointments; and open a 24-hour “clearinghouse” that can provide food, beds, showers, access to transitional programs and housing representatives to help people get into a stable place to live through the Salem Housing Authority.
Michael Geier, a longtime officer and supervisor in both Albuquerque and Chicago, takes over a department that is in the midst of federally mandated reforms related to excessive use of force. “Now there is a new APD and a new way of doing things,” he said.
Michael Geier, Albuquerque’s interim police chief since December, has won the job permanently, reports the city’s Journal. Mayor Tim Keller announced Wednesday that Geier, 65, had been selected by a five-member search committee from among 28 candidates. Geier worked as a police officer in the Chicago area for 20 years, working his way up the ranks to lieutenant, before spending another 20 years as an Albuquerque cop. He then worked as chief in Rio Rancho, an Albuquerque suburb. Keller said Geier was the best candidate to combat crime, reform the department and improve relations between police and the community.
The city council is expected to vote on the appointment next week. The Albuquerque Police Department is in the midst of a years-long reform effort brought on by a Department of Justice investigation that found the department had a pattern of excessive force. “I’m taking this responsibility with my eyes wide open,” Geier said. “There was an APD that was an old APD (that had) an old way of doing things that led to mistrust from the community. Now there is a new APD and a new way of doing things. … We’re going to be more aggressive in fighting crime, but we also will acknowledge our mistakes.”
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.
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.
“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.
Federal prosecutors say then-Biscayne Park, Fl., Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two officers framed a 16-year-old in four unsolved burglaries. Their motivation was to boost the police department’s arrest statistics.
Federal prosecutors say a Florida police chief and two officers framed a 16-year-old in four unsolved burglaries five years ago, reports USA Today. Their motivation: To boost the police department’s arrest stats. Former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano and former officers Charlie Dayoub and Raul Fernandez were charged Monday in connection with an incident prosecutors say happened in 2013. Atesiano ordered Dayoub and Fernandez to arrest the teen, identified only as T.D., in June 2013 to maintain a fictitious 100 percent clearance rate of reported burglaries, according to an indictment.
Prosecutors say there was no evidence to support charging the teen. Biscayne Park newsletters in 2013 show that Atesiano bragged about his nearly perfect reported residential burglaries clearance rate. He received praise from officials after he reported raising that rate. After citing a 89 percent clearance rate in one newsletter, he wrote: “As great as the above listed accomplishments are, I would like to challenge all of my officers to make 2013 an even bigger success.” An October 2013 newsletter published by the Village of Biscayne Park praised Atesiano’s crime clearance rate, saying, “Continued thanks to Police Chief Atesiano. Under his effective leadership, we have restored what our Village was once known for – safety – with the added professionalism of actual crime solving when needed.” Atesiano, Dayoub and Fernandez were charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights under color of law and deprivation of civil rights.
A new, automated DNA testing tool, which speeds up the time it takes to analyze crime scene samples, is welcomed by law enforcement and supported by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The ACLU says it’s equivalent to a “nuclear bomb” aimed at privacy rights—and is unnecessary.
An automated version of DNA testing, approved by the FBI this month for use by law enforcement and backed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is sparking concerns about the growing threat to privacy posed by emerging justice technology.
One version of the so-called “Rapid DNA Analysis” system, developed by the Boston-area ANDE corporation, was the first to receive approval for use in the National DNA Index System (NDIS), the national database that contains DNA profiles from participating federal, state and local forensic labs. It’s believed to work much faster than standard DNA forensics testing methods, which can sometimes take days, weeks, or months. Fully automated, it eliminates any need for human intervention.
Civil rights advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union contend that DNA identification of arrestees is already an unnecessary invasion of privacy, and that Rapid DNA represents an extension of those fears.
“You have to wonder why law enforcement think they need the nuclear bomb of identification,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the ACLU.
Rapid DNA is used for two main applications: identifying arrestees and the quick analysis of crime scene samples like bloodstains, tissue, or cigarette butts. Crime scene samples have not received NDIS approval and cannot be entered into the federal database.
NDIS approval from the FBI has allowed them to create the “RDIS” (Rapid DNA Index System), which will be tested over the coming months. This will allow thousands of police stations to run arrestee DNA through the NDIS and look for potential matches.
Those in favor of expanding DNA databanks at law enforcement agencies argue that the information obtained by a Rapid DNA test does not reveal unnecessary information, and that people sometimes confuse them with DNA profiles, which are much more in depth.
Richard Selden, president and founder of ANDE, says that Rapid DNA ID’s contain no information about an individual’s health or appearance.
“DNA ID’s have no social, racial, economic, gender, or any other bias,” Selden told The Crime Report.
Selden also pointed out that DNA ID’s could be used to determine close familial relationships, which he says could help reduce human trafficking.
Critics maintain, however, that this could implicate family members in crimes they had no connection with, and turn them into false suspects.
Another issue raised by civil liberties advocates is the difficulty of expunging the DNA ID’s of suspects who turn out to be innocent.
Of the 30 states that allow for DNA collection from arrestees, only a handful take responsibility for expunging the ID’s of arrestees who aren’t ultimately convicted.
The majority of states put the burden on the individual to expunge their ID’s from the database.
A study by the National Institute of Justice found that when the responsibility is placed on the individual, “very few expungements actually occur, and profiles are retained of individuals who were never formally charged with a qualifying offense or whose case resulted in acquittal or dismissal.”
There is also a question of whether or not law enforcement and the FBI actually needs DNA ID’s to identify arrestees in the CODIS. DNA profiles require electronic fingerprint identification in order to be entered and stored in the CODIS to begin with, and while new markers are steadily being integrated, fingerprints remain the primary mode of identification for the FBI.
The ACLU argued in an amicus brief for a Supreme Court case in 2013 that contrary to the government’s claims that DNA testing is only used for the purposes of identification, the main function of DNA collection is to try to link arrestees to other crimes.
The Supreme Court rejected the argument, ruling that when an arrest is made under probable cause for a serious offense, DNA collection of the suspect is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
While efforts by federal agencies to advance Rapid DNA testing have been going on for nearly a decade, the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 allowed the FBI to determine standards and practices for forensic labs and police booking stations to use Rapid DNA systems.
During hearings for his nomination as Attorney General in early 2017, Jeff Sessions spoke enthusiastically to the Judiciary Committee in support of Rapid DNA testing.
“After many years in law enforcement community, that’s one of the biggest bottlenecks, of all our laws involving prosecutions of criminal activity, is the bottleneck of scientific analysis, where we fail to get DNA back, fingerprint analysis, drug analysis, or chemical analysis,” said Sessions.
Selden says that the company is working with the FBI and many other states in planning initial implementation of ANDE instruments and has received an enormous amount of interest from agencies all across the country.
Law enforcement supporters of Rapid DNA testing say it saves time in the investigations of critical cases, and can help speed up exoneration of false suspects as well.
Rapid DNA testing has been in operation in several police agencies for several years, and has been used to help solve crimes in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Florida, among others.
Nevertheless, the ACLU’s Stanley is wary about the potential dangers of Rapid DNA testing, despite the benefits it affords law enforcement.
DNA testing of arrestees, which Rapid DNA will make much easier, could exacerbate racial biases and disparities within the criminal justice system.
“If you’re putting everyone arrested in the DNA pool, then you’re going to see more black people turned into false suspects,” said Stanley.
Stanley says the serious privacy concerns raised by critics about new technology can be addressed by the development of government policies that ensure they are used responsibly.
“Sometimes you do see blowback, like with Facebook recently, and then you have conversations starting about whether it needs more regulation or not,” he said.
Dane Stallone is a TCR news intern. He welcomes comments from readers.
In an “action plan” on gun violence, the nation’s top think tank on policing said guns should be prohibited for individuals who have a history of drug abuse or mental illness, as well as those with criminal convictions. It also called for strengthening the federal Background Check system and the establishment of a robust system of licensing.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has added its weight to calls to ban guns for individuals “legally prohibited from owning them.”
In an “action plan” on gun violence released Thursday, the nation’s top think tank on policing also called for strengthening the federal Background Check system and the establishment of a robust system of licensing.
The recommendations would ban firearms to people with criminal convictions or histories of drug abuse and mental illness.
The plan, “Key Findings and an Action Plan to Reduce Gun Violence,” was released following a gathering of the nation’s big city police chiefs in Washington, D.C., and outlined a combination of legislative, law enforcement, and individual solutions to the continuing issue of gun violence.
Other recommendations included the enactment of “swift, certain, and proportional punishments” for those convicted of gun crimes, the collection and sharing of ballistics evidence matching guns to specific crimes and suspects, and the development of threat assessment protocols to prevent mass attacks before they happen.
PERF also advocates the passage of a ban on bump stocks and military-style weapons such as assault rifles, as well as the enactment of the Extreme-Risk Protection Order, which would allow gun owners’ family members or friends to petition courts to temporarily remove their firearms if they are deemed at risk of harming themselves or others.
“We’ve had three horrific incidents recently,” Sheriff Tim Cameron of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, told fellow chiefs at Thursday’s event, according to a report in the Washington Post.
“We embrace the notion of ‘red flag’ laws, giving us the ability to take guns away from those who are dangers to themselves and others,” he said.
PERF’s report recognizes the multi-faceted nature of the issue, calling gun violence “a public health problem, an economic problem, and a social problem” in addition to a crime problem. It breaks gun violence down into four categories – “street crime,” domestic violence-related shootings, and mass shootings.
It also stresses the importance of building trust between law enforcement and the communities in which they operate so that members will cooperate with police to stop gun violence. This is particularly important, because according to PERF, a small number of criminals commit a disproportionate number of all gun crimes. The help of community members is vital to identifying these individuals, while a culture of silence can stymie police investigations.
“When a human being shoots another human being the likelihood of that being the first time is slim to none,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.
“And it’s probably not the last time. That’s why it matters. We can’t wait until somebody murders another human. And the life we save may be one of our own.”
PERF calls for more research about what approaches best combat gun violence.
“To a large degree, law enforcement agencies are ‘flying blind,’” the report reads. “Dramatically expand[ing] gun violence research…has the potential to reduce fatalities in all four types of gun-related deaths.”
PERF’s action plan stresses the shared responsibility born by all levels of government, state agents, research groups, law enforcement personnel, and individuals in addressing the issue: “solving the gun violence problem is not the responsibility of one entity of one level of government. There is a role for everyone on the gun issue.”
This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Elena Schwartz.
Nearly two months after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend, the city’s police department announced a policy to determine when to arrest people accused of trespassing on private property. The policy encourages “greater discretion” from officers, who are now encouraged to deescalate disputes between business or property owners and an alleged offender.
Nearly two months after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend, the city’s police department announced a policy to determine when to arrest people accused of trespassing on private property, reports Philly.com. The policy encourages “greater discretion” from officers, who are now encouraged to deescalate disputes between business or property owners and an alleged offender. It requires them to request a supervisor to respond to the location. The policy establishes that the officer must witness the person’s refusing to leave before making an arrest.
Officers are not allowed to arrest someone if the owner or authorized person did not personally communicate that the offender was unwelcome, or if the owner or authorized person refuses to file a trespassing complaint. “The new policy provides officers with guidance on how to respond to calls about trespassing on private business properties that are open to the public,” said Police Commissioner Richard Ross. “This allows police to take actions, with the help of their supervisor, that are most appropriate in each individual case.” The policy is intended to guide police responses to calls to investigate and enforce complaints of “defiant trespass,” a Pennsylvania crime, ranging from a summary offense to a misdemeanor, in which someone enters or remains in a place where notice against trespassing has been given knowing he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so. The department was forced to reexamine its policies after the arrests April 12 of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were waiting at a Starbucks for an acquaintance but didn’t purchase anything. The video of their arrest posted on Twitter was viewed more than 10 million times. The arrest prompted national outrage and discussions of racial profiling.
The city hails its “Citizen Virtual Patrol” as a step toward transparency. The American Civil Liberties union calls it “Big Brother [and] and infinite number of siblings.”
Law enforcement agencies have deployed vast surveillance camera networks to guard against terrorism and combat street crime. In Newark, the police have taken an extraordinary step that few, if any, other departments have pursued: They have opened up feeds from dozens of closed-circuit cameras to the public, asking viewers to assist the force by watching over the city and reporting anything suspicious, the New York Times reports. The Citizen Virtual Patrol has been hailed by officials as a move toward transparency in a city where a mistrust of the police runs deep, rooted in claims of aggressive enforcement and racial animosity. Officials say the cameras provide a way to recruit residents as Newark tries to shake a reputation for violence and crime. “This is part of building a partnership,” said Anthony Ambrose, who, as public safety director, oversees the city’s police and fire operations. Since the program started a month ago, 1,600 users have signed into the website, and residents have asked for more cameras in their neighborhoods.
The program has provoked alarm among civil liberties groups and privacy advocates. They argue that it opens a Pandora’s box of possibly devastating consequences for unsuspecting people and gives would-be stalkers or burglars a powerful tool for tracking their targets. They say it pushes the police to rely heavily on the judgment of untrained civilians whose perception could be clouded by unconscious biases. The cameras look out over strips of storefronts (some bustling and others seemingly dead), public housing complexes and rows of family homes. “It’s not just Big Brother,” said Amol Sinha of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “There’s an infinite number of siblings here.”