by Greg Saville
These are trying times, a statement that qualifies as the understatement of the year! This is especially so when it comes to policing and racial protest. While protests and riots are a global phenomenon – especially recently in places like Hong Kong, Europe, and South America – in the past few months the latest Ground Zero for police and racial unrest is in the USA.
Since May, America has seen over 14,000 arrests during protests in 49 American cities, extremist violence caused by racist groups like the Alt-Right, and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police shootings of unarmed black men.
And now Defund The Police!
I attended a police meeting recently in which I listened to suggestions to modify warrior-style training and rebrand police services in response to this turbulence. It felt like we were arguing over where to place our beach towel to keep the sand off while ignoring the roaring Tsunami about to crash onto us and wash us out to sea.
Over 20 major city police chiefs have resigned in the past few months, including Rene Hall, the African-American chief in Dallas, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, and other chiefs in Rochester, Richmond, Louisville, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, and even Toronto, as the racial protests spread to Canada.
Clearly, this is not a beach-towel-moment in history. What is to be done with the police?
Since the 1980s, police reformers have worked diligently to transform police practices from rigid law enforcement-warrior style policing, to community-based problem-solving. For over two decades, I have worked alongside some of the best and brightest police officials and reformers in the world to do just that – people who I respect and who I know care deeply for both the police profession and safer, more just, communities.
Sadly, in my estimation, since at least since 9-11, the movement towards community policing has reversed and lately, it has collapsed. I speak in admittedly simplistic terms, but it seems to me that the warrior cop has commandeered the community cop. Almost in response, the defund-the-police movement represents a belated and instinctive reply to that illicit expropriation.
I have read books explaining why community police reform faltered since the 1980s, for example, Malcolm Sparrow's, Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Reform Back and the Keys to Reform. I also have read far-fetched books describing the End Of Policing. But watching police/race riots on the news this week (the latest in Philadelphia), those books now seem much less far-fetched.
THE TSUNAMI ARRIVES
And now where are we?
Forbes magazine described the immediate impact of defunding the police. In a dozen cities, municipal leaders have committed to defund, or reallocate, over a half-billion dollars in police service budgets thus far. This includes over $300 million in New York City, over $100 million in Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, over $10 million in Oakland, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, and over $1 million in Hartford and Salt Lake City.
We are told police services are already underfunded and cops are working harder than ever, running call-to-call. Perhaps that’s true. But, if so, it is only half the story.
SAFEGROWTH IN ACTION
Here is what I know for certain: In two different cities, we recently taught SafeGrowth programs to local residents, shopowners, and community groups. This included how to create action plans to cut crimes in different high crime neighborhoods – a topic in which you’d think the police have a powerful vested interest (the training was free and they had plenty of prior notice). We ended up with two local cops at one and none at the other. The police agencies in question each employed over a thousand cops on staff.
We got two.
Maybe they were understaffed and too busy to attend. But still! We were cutting crime at the roots with proven, evidence-based methods. We were teaching residents how to partner with police (and vice versa) in order to create safer neighborhoods in crime hotspots. This is the very goal that defund-the-police advocates seek!
There is an American national election next week and this tsunami will crash upon those who win it. Much is at stake.
Next blog: What can be done?
by Mateja Mihinjac
In the previous blog I wrote about the issue of food access and underlying problems that stem from inequality. We have learned in our SafeGrowth work that there is a connection between inequality, food access and the conditions that create crime. In this blog I present three pillars that can transform food deserts into food oases and concurrently tackle socio-economic disadvantage and crime.
Physical accessibility is the first pillar. Local infrastructure and zoning should support access to affordable fresh food within half a mile of residential areas. Many disadvantaged neighborhoods are faced with urban obstacles rooted in socio-economic inequality and high levels of crime that fail to achieve this objective.
Importantly, new supermarkets will not in themselves shift deeply ingrained eating habits without providing nutritional education.
In addition to physical access, another challenge is insufficient knowledge about nutrition and the effects of eating habits on health.
Education about health-promoting eating patterns should complement physical food accessibility. The Design for America Healthy Food (Access) Project developed an innovative approach that provides helpful graphic food guidelines for shoppers.
The third pillar focuses on financial aspects. Encouraging providers of fresh and affordable foods to partner with locally owned stores, thereby investing in the local economy, is preferable to relying on large supermarket chains. One strategy to achieve this is Rossi and Brunori's proposals for public and private stakeholder partnerships.
Another report looks at New York public housing and suggests the housing authority should contribute towards food access and economic security by encouraging commercial development on the housing properties. This could be coupled with employing residents to drive both local economy and local governance. Echoing Jane Jacobs, mixed uses promote safety by increasing occupancy and human interaction.
LOCAL FOOD GOVERNANCE
Food access from a local perspective is gaining traction in food justice circles. Knowing that available resources and education strongly influence food purchasing habits, it is unquestionable that food deserts are not a simple solution solved with new supermarkets.
Food accessibility and food education at a scale that responds to local demands is one major step towards food oases and away from barren food deserts. In SafeGrowth we suggest such changes should be driven With and By local residents for a lasting change towards 21st Century neighborhoods.
Security robot on patrol - Video Washington Post
Luddite: (adjective) one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change - Merriam-Webster
by Greg Saville
The story of the Luddite resonated last week with word from San Francisco about a controversy surrounding the K-5 Security Robot. We blogged on the K-5 a few years ago - On the threshold of a robotics revolution.
Since then the journey of the security robot has not been straight; it has been drowned in a Washington DC fountain and it has mistakenly run over a toddler's leg at a Palo Alto shopping center.
And last week, according to Newsweek, the security robot was removed from duty after deterring homeless encampments near the San Francisco SPCA. Apparently homeless people vandalized the SPCA robot, angry about being singled out by the SPCA and the security robot.
LUDDITE OR TECHNOPHILE
The issue is layered. On one hand, security robots are the latest technology and like all new technologies, they can be applied in ways both sacred and profane. There are places, such as underground parking lots, where an automated security patroller with surveillance tools can keep watch and help make isolated places safer.
In the San Francisco case, SPCA representative Krista Maloney says“staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments… since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot (known as K9) a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.”
But beneath the surface lurks a darker story.
THE DARK SIDE
This blog has reported on the so-called hostile architecture movement, especially CPTED tactics used to dehumanize places to exclude certain groups over other groups. Dealing with homeless encampments, which by definition means dealing with homeless people, with a security robot, is a questionable tactic. And the homeless have been outraged. Since the security robot began patrolling in front of the SPCA, the Washington Post claims it has been "allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker."
Are there better, more humane, solutions? In some communities, Housing First programs, seem to work. In fact, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, population 65,000, claims to have eliminated homelessness with the Housing First strategy. Why isn’t San Francisco helping the SPCA and the homeless with such a program?
By Mateja Mihinjac
In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.
However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.
SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.
Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).
To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.
THE PARADOX OF PUBLIC SPACE
The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.
For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!
Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.
by Mateja Mihinjac
The story of Frankenstein, when a scientist’s experiment runs amok, is a fictional account of science gone wrong. A few weeks ago I attended a criminology conference about crime prevention and communities. The conference tar1geted academics, police, local councils and groups like Neighbourhood Watch and Police-Citizens Youth Clubs.
The take-home message as it turned out, however, was not an appreciation for cooperative community-driven crime prevention. Instead, the delegates were fascinated by presentations on evidence-based criminal justice showcased through the technical whizz of some presenters and the call for a scientific response to crime.
The evidence-based mantra is the latest trend in criminal justice and policing, often called the evidence-based approach (EBA) in crime prevention and evidence-based policing.
These academics (they call themselves “scientists”) maintain that criminal justice policies should be driven by scientifically evaluated strategies that have been proven to work, a laudable goal to be sure. But to support these arguments, EBA proponents like to compare the evolution of criminal justice to medical science.
They maintain that by applying scientific techniques that allow for objective, comprehensive and rigorous assessments, they will be able to guide public safety professionals with approved solutions and thus eliminate guesswork that had guided their work in the past. It is a proposition long criticized as unrealistic by social research experts like National Academy of Science member Stanley Lieberson, former chair of the Sociological Research Association.
LIMITS OF EBA
Crime is a social problem characterized by complicated causes and interconnected underlying factors. The science that the EBA crowd follows is based on quantitative number crunching and the kind of controlled experiments that are simple to control in the chemistry lab, but far less so on the street where crime occurs.
How likely is it that the same methods in physical science are ideal methods for truly understanding the complexities of crime? How realistic is it to think the multifaceted social factors of social disorder and crime can be extracted, reduced to small components and then tested in experimental designs?
Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow also warns that relying too much on evidence-based practice is a risky proposition; it risks dependence on a limited pool of validated solutions and dependence on quickly outdated solutions in today’s rapidly changing society. Further, Sparrow says that the excessive time needed to establish a knowledge-base to satisfy evidence-based policing proponents means that results may take too long to be operationally relevant.
One argument for establishing evidence-based practice is to eliminate the disconnect between academics and practitioners. But escalating the evidence-based rhetoric does not help narrow this gap; in fact, it only perpetuates the division between the two.
This is especially true when EBA academics consider themselves as governors of the research that judges policies rather than establishing a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship. There is no worse way to create top-down solutions that exclude those who are affected by these policy decisions — the public.
TOWARDS AN ETHICS-BASED APPROACH
This does not mean, as the saying goes, that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Evidence-based practice has an important role to play, particularly in crime prevention and policing. Evidence-based research provides directional patterns that might support the effectiveness of certain measures.
However, decision makers should not rely solely upon today’s trending EBA promises especially when solutions may infringe upon social equality. Ethics cannot be pushed aside from decisions made too quickly from a complete lack of evidence, or too slowly from a plodding EBA platform in which “scientists” take months or years to conclude little of value.
Sparrow partially attributes the overwhelming focus of the evidence-based policing movement on place-based interventions such as situational crime prevention, CPTED or hotspot policing. In these cases, ethical questions seem very distant when researchers use secondary data, such as crime statistics collected by police, and their computational calculations do not directly involve people.
It is ultimately still people who will experience the effects of place-based interventions.
One example of this vulnerability is evidence-based solutions such as target hardening in situational prevention or CPTED that minimize criminal opportunities (when crimes may not have actually occurred) but may also reduce opportunities for liveability, walkability or socializing. This is why we need to engage communities each step of the way during evidence-based research and practice. Other professions do it — why can’t we?
Schram neatly summarizes the evidence-based versus ethics-based debate:
“we need less top-down research which focuses on a ‘what works’ agenda that serves the management of subordinate populations and more research that provides bottom-up understandings of a ‘what’s right’ agenda tailored to empowering people in particular settings”.
Research seems to be the last place cops look for solutions. They appear to implement most new approaches without supportive research to back them up.
Having co-researched and co-authored (with Gerry Cleveland) the Police Training Officer program - first adopted in Reno and then nation-wide - I am sensitive to this argument. The PTO program (and its grown-up progeny, the Police Problem-Based Learning program) was fully funded by the COPS Office. They both were thoroughly researched and pilot tested prior to implementation. Along with Problem-Oriented Policing a few decades earlier, I believe this to be a rarity in the police world.
It is the same with crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). CPTED was studied and evaluated many years ago by researchers. Studies exist today on its effectiveness and some progressive police agencies have adopted CPTED based on this.
But usually not.
Now there is a new movement called evidence-based policing that seeks to fix the disconnect between science and policing.
This week I chatted with Harvard's Malcolm Sparrow. He has just published a brilliant and provocative response to the Evidence-Based scholars in a paper called Governing Science.
This is a must-read for informed leaders. It is a must-read for social scientists too.
Here's one tasty tidbit:
"…the relationship proposed by proponents of evidence-based policing offers virtually no benefits for police. The best they can hope for is that the scientists they have invited in…will finally confirm what police thought they knew already: that an intervention or program the department had previously deployed did actually work. The downside risk for police is much greater."
The article explains why he says this and how he thinks it should work. Read it HERE.