PREVENTING CRIME AND VIOLENCE:
THE SUCCESS OF COMMUNITY POLICING IN AMERICA'S CITIES

A NATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR MAYORS AND POLICE CHIEFS

INTRODUCTION

On July 22, 2001, mayors, police chiefs and other top municipal and law enforcement officials from 45 cities gathered in Las Vegas for a roundtable review of the contribution that community policing has made to the reduction of crime and violence across the nation over the past several years, and an open discussion of some of the community policing initiatives they have found to be most effective.

The conference was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and conducted by The U.S. Conference of Mayors as part of its continuing effort to monitor the expansion of community policing and document its successes. The morning sessions were chaired by New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, President of the Conference of Mayors; presiding in the afternoon was Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin, Chair of the Conference's Standing Committee on Criminal and Social Justice.

The 75 local officials in Las Vegas for the conference represented cities ranging in size from over 1.5 million (Philadelphia) to 10,000 (Los Lunas, New Mexico).

Setting the stage for the day-long discussion of community policing, Dr. Ellen Scrivner, Deputy Director of Community Policing Development for the COPS Office, summarized the kinds of support that her agency had been providing the law enforcement partnerships of mayors and police chiefs since the COPS program got underway in 1994. Dr. Scrivner said the program had:

  • invested $7.5 billion in community policing resources in communities across the country,
  • awarded grants to12,400 of the 18,000 police departments in the country,
  • awarded the tools and resources that are necessary beyond just additional bodies on the street - the technology and some of the problem-solving partnerships, and
  • funded 110,000 police officers and sheriff's deputies - about 75,000 of them currently on the street.

PRESENTATIONS

The Las Vegas conference was designed to give mayors and police chiefs an opportunity to compare their experiences, exchange information on their most successful initiatives, and discuss the future role of community policing in law enforcement. It consisted of a series of presentations by mayors, police chiefs, and teams of mayors and chiefs. Each presentation described an initiative that was based on community policing principles and supported by COPS funding, and each was followed by group discussion.

New Orleans, LA
Mayor Marc Morial
Chief Richard Pennington

Mayor Morial said that when he ran for mayor in 1994, the biggest issue in the campaign was "which candidate could turn the New Orleans Police Department around and make New Orleans a safer city." The Mayor described how, following the election, and following his hiring of Police Chief Richard Pennington, community policing became an important part of the successful turnaround strategy that was implemented.

With upwards of 45,000 city residents in 13 public housing developments, and with as many as one-third of the murders in the City occurring in these developments, newly-hired Chief Pennington knew that he had to include a public housing initiative in his revamping of the New Orleans Police Department. While increasing the size of the police force and raising standards and compensation for officers overall, Chief Pennington assigned 40 officers to three of the worst public housing communities in the city, met with tenant councils to get their perceptions of the police - which were generally very negative - and met with police officers, many of whom felt it was a waste of time to invest police resources in public housing.

Chief Pennington asked for, and got, officers to volunteer for duty in the target communities, increased enforcement of curfew and narcotics laws, required officers to attend monthly tenant council meetings, encouraged residents to talk to police about persons responsible for crime, and started bike, foot and horse patrols. Within six months, complaints against police officers were down, children "started looking up to the officers," and the murder rate in public housing dropped 80 percent. "We would not have been able to do those things without COPS funding," Chief Pennington said.

Reno, NV
Mayor Jeff Griffin
Chief Jerry Hoover

Seven Neighborhood Advisory Boards were established in Reno in 1995, and community policing officers have attended every meeting held by these Boards. For the past four years, Mayor Griffin explained, each NAB has been given $50,000 to invest as needed; five of the seven have used the funding for radar trailers. In the past, he said, the more traffic citations police gave out, the more unhappy citizens became with the police. Now traffic enforcement is important to them, neighborhood residents are requesting radar equipment, and public acceptance of the police is up.

Chief Hoover described, among many initiatives, a current six-month study of City residents to determine how they identify and group themselves along ethnic, cultural, socio-economic and physical or geographic lines. The results of this study, he said, will be used to redraw police beat boundaries to coincide with how the City's communities define themselves.

Denver, CO
Mayor Wellington Webb

Denver's Safe City Program involves the Police Department, courts, schools and other area institutions. COPS support has enabled Denver to add nearly 100 officers and to create Impact Teams in each police district. Officers on the Impact Teams operate independently of those on the 911 call dispatch system. Mayor Webb said he calls them "search and destroy" outfits. "They're basically looking for problems...going where there are hot spots, trouble spots," he said. The Safe City initiative also involves working with the courts to increase penalties for street crimes, and redesigning police district boundaries within the City. Much of the initiative focuses on children, supporting officers in the schools, the schools' truancy program, a curfew program, and efforts to promote and publicize children's successes.

St. Paul, MN
Mayor Norm Coleman

In law enforcement, Mayor Coleman said, "the best circumstance is when the community tells you they want you to be aggressive. Citizens want police to be aggressive about traffic." His description of St. Paul's effort to pursue a policy of aggressive police enforcement while steering clear of practices associated with racial profiling prompted a lively and lengthy group discussion and participant reactions that reflected how sensitive the racial profiling issue has become. The Mayor described an effort to develop a policy on racial profiling that involved members of the community, the NAACP and the police. The central issue has become the officers' use of consent search advisories in traffic stops - asking drivers for their permission to search their vehicles without having to establish probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The Mayor said that while the City does not yet know what the impact of the policy will be, the "bottom line" is development of critically-important trust and confidence in the police.

Tulsa, OK
Mayor Susan Savage
Chief Ron Palmer

The Mayor-Chief team from Tulsa described the growth of methamphetamine production and use in their community and a collaborative police and community response to it that includes education, prevention, aggressive enforcement, prosecution and, most recently, treatment. Mayor Savage explained that with 62 percent of meth labs operating in private residences, 20 percent in vehicles, and 11 percent in business complexes, the City has trained trash haulers, postal carriers and neighborhood associations to watch for meth labs in the neighborhoods in which they work.

Chief Palmer described the City's efforts to protect children exposed to meth labs and the chemicals used in meth production. Nationally, children or their toys were found in 70 percent of the labs seized; one-third of the children removed from the labs tested positive for meth in their systems. Tulsa's collaborative efforts involving the health service, hospitals, and the District Attorney's office have resulted in referrals of children for medical evaluations and the removal of children from the homes of adult offenders.

Richmond (VA)
Chief Jerry Oliver

Having spent a great deal of time taking policing programs to the community, Chief Oliver believes the next step, "the new frontier," is bringing citizens inside the police department to help make better decisions. "We've got to demystify the police department's jargon, our policies, our structures, our tactics, our training," he said. "We've got to include citizens in the real tough decisions that we make, decisions that have to do with discipline." In Richmond, the Chief explained, it's much more than citizen oversight; citizens are involved in the review of every use of force and every traffic accident involving police officers. A recent accidental shooting of an African American teenage girl by an officer did not develop into a big story, he said, because citizens were involved in every aspect of the handling of the case.

National Crime Prevention Council
CEO Jack Calhoun

Speaking at the conference's luncheon session, Mr. Calhoun told the mayors and police chiefs that he was "stunned" by their openness to their citizenry. "Here you are," said Calhoun, "basically military in organization, being among the most radically open and beholden to citizens. I really tip my hat to you. It's very, very courageous stuff." Mr. Calhoun's wide-ranging discussion included what he believes are keys to safer cities; among these: tailoring community policing strategies to each city's situation; spreading responsibility for crime reduction across police and the community; setting goals that go beyond crime reduction to improvement in quality of life; looking at measures of success in reaching civic, not just crime reduction, goals; and not making assumptions about what a community wants.

Richmond, CA
Mayor Rosemary Corbin
Chief Joe Samuels

Mayor Corbin described a Richmond Police Department which has evolved from being the subject of an early-1980s "60 Minutes" report on its racial imbalance and insensitivity to the African American community to an organization that more closely reflects the community. Chief Samuels has set the tone, she said, meeting with the community and maintaining that the entire police force must be considered community-oriented. Facilitated sessions looking at the design of community policing have brought together Richmond's 39 Neighborhood Councils, its police commanders and officers, and its citizens. Richmond is now moving into community-oriented municipal government, addressing problems such as abandoned cars, potholes and graffiti. The Mayor said the COPS program had helped her City a great deal, enabling the Police Department to add 15 officers and contributing to a significant reduction in crime.

Madison, WI
Chief Richard Williams

Chief Williams reinforced a message heard throughout the day: In community policing, the bottom line is trust: If officers don't have the trust of the community - and vice versa - there can be an explosion when problems arise. Madison has had community policing for about 17 years and has hired 70 officers over the past five years using COPS funding. The overriding theme for everything we do, he said, is "educate first, regulate second." A traffic enforcement and safety team focuses on education; the Department aggressively pursues traffic enforcement and gets great support for this from the community. The Chief believes that police officers should be leaders, but also followers. For example, drug use in Madison is handled as a health issue with the Health Department in the lead.

Community residents' desire for, and involvement in, more aggressive traffic enforcement was included in several of the day's presentations. Mayors and police chiefs clearly are viewing stepped up traffic enforcement in the context of community policing.

Charleston, SC
Chief Reuben Greenberg

Chief Greenberg described his department's creation of a tourism service officer to assist tourists with problems such as traffic accidents, lost or missing luggage or personal identification, credit card theft and armed robbery. Over the past seven years, he said, every tourist robbed in Charleston has been repaid by the City and local businesses within about one hour. Other services may involve immediate replacement of lost identification, transportation to a restaurant for a free meal, immediate repair of broken car windows - whatever is needed "to make the person whole again."

Philadelphia, PA
Commissioner John Timoney

Commissioner Timoney said that his City was working on community initiatives involving faith-based institutions long before the current White House push, and recommended that police departments take the lead on this. He said that with COPS Office help Philadelphia was able to add 1,000 officers, many of whom were assigned to the narcotics division, and to develop innovative approaches to working with narcotics users; among these are special efforts to work with released offenders and to direct narcotics users into rehabilitation rather than detention.

REPORTS ON COMMUNITY POLICING

Four reports on community policing developed by the Conference of Mayors over the past year were released in Las Vegas in conjunction with the conference. The reports cover:

  • the results of a national survey on the overall impact of community policing in cities;
  • "best practices" involving neighborhood-level initiatives;
  • case studies of successful programs in Lincoln (NE), Anaheim, and Miami-Dade County; and
  • "best practices" involving the collaboration of police and other city agencies.

COMMUNITY POLICING PRINCIPLES

As this report illustrates, the presentations and discussions held in Las Vegas covered a wide range of programs and initiatives embodying community policing principles. While many very different applications were examined by the group, a few core principles were repeated by a number of conference participants. In one form or another, these addressed the importance of:

  • building and maintaining community trust and confidence in police officers;
  • decentralizing policing and police facilities to bring them closer to the communities served; and
  • demystifying policing - helping the community to understand how it works and how to work with it.