CITY OF LAREDO,
Community Oriented Policing (COPS)
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The Laredo Police Department has adopted the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) philosophy in order to better serve the citizens of Laredo. This philosophy encourages citizen participation in police related matters and stresses the importance of utilizing problem-solving techniques. Currently, the city is divided into sixteen (16) police districts which are either proportional in size, population or amount of activity present. Of these sixteen districts, eight have been converted into community-policing districts. Each COPS district has been assigned one police supervisor and an average of ten police officers. These officers will interact with the community and work together with them in an effort to enhance the quality of life in their area.
Within each district, there is a workstation that is conveniently located for easy public access. The officers assigned to the COPS districts will use these workstations to complete reports, assemble community meetings or any other activities that encourage citizen involvement. Recently, the Laredo Police Department has been recommending that their workstations built inside community recreational centers located on or near school grounds. These centers are an excellent location for workstations because of the amount of citizens then attract and for the deterrent effect it has on criminal activities near the school. Today, there are two workstations that are located inside community recreational centers. One is located at the Cigarroa recreational center which oversees Cigarroa High School, Cigarroa Middle School and Kawas Elementary School. The second COPS workstation is located at the K. Tarver Recreational Center. This center is located inside the school grounds of K. Tarver Elementary School which is in close proximity to a housing project that has a high volume of criminal activity.
Since the inception of these workstations, criminal activities and school violence have decreased dramatically. The presence of the officers at these sites encourages students to interact with them and eventually gain their trust. Information about possible gang fights, drug dealings and other types of crimes are relayed to the officers in confidence and a strategic plan is formed to deal with the problem. Future COP districts are being considered to be located near schools to address school violence and other criminal activities.
School violence has also dropped at COPS districts that do not have their workstations located near schools or in community recreational centers. This success is attributed to the officers working closely with the schools and the public. These officers identify gang members and repeat offenders and monitor their activities closely. The information gathered by these officers has also helped in reducing the number of gang members, drug dealings, threats and other violent crimes near or on school grounds. Individuals are discouraged from any wrongdoings due to the officers direct involvement with the community.
2. When was the program created and why?
All across the nation, police departments were experiencing a losing battle in their policing efforts. Police departments were being scrutinized and officers were losing the publicís trust. Crime was at an upward trend and police effectiveness was at its lowest. A study was conducted to attempt to find a solution to these problems. It was suggested that community oriented policing would greatly improve the effectiveness of police departments and that citizen interactions with police would improve substantially. In 1994, President Clinton signed into law a crime bill that would put an additional 100,000 officers in America's streets by the year 2000. Laredo was one of the cities that would change their policing philosophy to better serve the community and to keep up with the latest policing trend.
The community policing philosophy was incorporated into the Laredo Police Departmentís operations in the summer of 1995. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, a pilot program was created at the Azteca neighborhood to address the serious crime problems in that area. Officers began to conduct surveys, community meetings and door to door visits to ensure the success of the program. Within a few months, crime had dramatically decreased and the quality of life had greatly improved. Citizens became involved in the departmentís community-policing efforts and supported the officers in their daily decisions. Today, both citizens and officers are actively involved in problem-solving techniques to ensure that their neighborhood is not lost to crime and its criminal elements.
3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?
The effectiveness of the program is measured by monthly activity reports and public attitudes. The activity reports help officers identify the problems in each district. Officers then do problem-solving to eliminate or reduce the frequency of the problem. Once a strategy is applied to a problem, an analysis is done to measure its success. Public attitudes are also important in measuring the success of the program. Citizens address the effectiveness of the program through the use of surveys and community meetings. The input from the community is very important to the department for the purpose of identifying strengths and weaknesses.
4. How is the program financed?
The program is financed through grants provided by the U. S. Department of Justiceís Community-Policing Office and by matching funds and in-kind contributions provided by the city of Laredo. A total of $3,448,398 has been awarded to the Laredo Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justiceís COPS Office and $2,070,021 by the city of Laredo. This translates to a total of forty-six (46) police officers added to the strength of the department for community policing assignments.
Workstations and office furniture have been provided from a number of sources. The business community has donated free office space, utilities, equipment and other supplies to support the program. U.S. Cellular has provided free phones and service to allow citizens to interact with the officers in their districts. Other city departments such as Parks and Recreation, have also provided office space in their Community Recreational Centers to provide the police department with a workstation. Other sources of funding come from the Laredo Police Departmentís annual budget.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?
The community is involved in the program by attending community meetings and answering questionnaires. Their input is crucial to the philosophy because they are the "eyes and ears" of the community. Citizens also actively participate in the program by assisting police officers in problem-solving. Their ideas are valuable as they provide an alternative insight in handling problems that do not require a police approach.For more information, please contact:
Captain Blasa Bluhm
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J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352