Last month we began a series of blogs about the impact of local news on community engagement. The first blog covered Denver, Colorado, and two weeks ago the second covered Ljubljana, Slovenia. This week we conclude with news coverage from Hamilton, Ontario.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
As with our last two blogs on crime news, much of the focus in Canada is on the war in Ukraine but, as in Denver and Ljubljana, crime stories continue. Here are some recent crime stories from Hamilton, Ontario.
In this story, a man went to meet the private and online seller of a luxury car and when he went to test drive it, locked the doors and took off with the vehicle. He is still at large. This story confirms the narrative that people should be careful selling (and buying) their items online.
This incident demonstrates some of the unique ways offenders are adapting in order to steal cars. Since electronic immobilizers were mandated in Canada in 2007, auto theft has plummeted.
This is largely because you can’t turn over the ignition without the key. As such, many offenders are finding alternative ways to access the keys to cars, such as burglary and robbery.
In this story, police caught an armed bank robber who stole cash from two banks in Hamilton’s east end. He went into the bank, handed the teller a note saying it was a bank robbery and he was armed and took off with an undisclosed amount of cash.
This story follows some common themes in crime reporting: it is discrete, easy to understand, and there is a clear villain and hero. Similar to the auto theft story, it is also a somewhat unique event in the 21st century. Bank robberies are far less common now that security has been improved and bank tellers have very little cash at their stations.
In this story, police are investigating a shooting in downtown Hamilton leaving one person hospitalized. The two assailants fled the scene and the police are encouraging local residents to inspect their security cameras for any footage of the incident.
While there is very little information provided in this story, we still see many of the criteria of newsworthiness: it is easy to understand, there is a clear victim, and the event was short-lived. It is also a rare and violent event. Shootings are incredibly uncommon in Canada, especially compared to our southern neighbours. However, these kinds of incidents have the ability to instill a sense of fear in neighborhood residents who are provided very little detail about what actually happened and if it might happen to them next. This is similar to crime stories in Denver.
MEDIA AND THE POLICE
You will note that all three crime stories in Hamilton are similar to those told in Ljubljana and Denver in one crucial respect – while they differ in seriousness, they are all informed by the local police.
According to Criminologist Vincent Sacco, the police are the main source of crime news for journalists because of the relationship that is mutually beneficial. Journalists receive ongoing access to crime news and the police are positioned as the experts or “owners” of the problem.
This may be why residents who comment about crimes in news media directly refer to police in their observations. It may also be why stories about police ineffectiveness or controversy also show up on many front pages. Residents see police and crime as intimately the same story!
The stories also fit specific criteria outlined in a Canadian criminology textbook by Sacco and Kennedy, The Criminal Event.
In my master’s degree, I worked with my mentor, Dr. Sacco at Queen’s University. Sacco’s book is a well-known Canadian intro textbook. He explains that crime news often contributes to a skewed understanding of crime in our neighbourhoods. He outlines four main reasons for this:
Sacco explains that crime news ignores the complex relationship between social conditions and crime – something we observed in all three cities. Further, there are factors that make crimes more newsworthy in all three cities of Ljubljana, Denver, and Hamilton. Crimes are newsworthy if they are short-lived, simple to understand, and predictable with dramatic narratives and clear heroes/victims/villains.
Crime reporting has significant implications for local residents in neighbourhoods. First, reporting may result in fear of crime. When citizens are afraid, they often retreat into their homes, meaning there are fewer eyes on the street and more opportunities for crime. That makes community crime prevention difficult.
Second, when crime news creates the impression that police are the owners of the crime narrative, local residents are less inclined to engage in crime prevention because they don’t see themselves as part of the solution. This is a constant problem we confront in our SafeGrowth work.
We believe that neighbourhood residents are among the best suited to prevent crime. We support residents in reclaiming the crime prevention narrative and we help them establish ownership over their own crime problems. SafeGrowth helps contextualize the frightening crime headlines by providing residents the tools to collect their own data and build their own understandings of crime issues, often in collaboration with local police.
In doing so, they see the truth behind the crime stories and they analyse their fears so they can build their own local solutions. From Denver to Ljubljana to Hamilton, we are convinced that is the way forward.
by Gregory Saville
Metro Denver is my home. As far as cities go, it’s a pretty decent place to live. On the western edge of the city lies the panoramic Rocky mountains and to the east, the Great Plains unfurl for almost a thousand miles. Metro Denver is one of the fastest-growing tech scenes in the country and it hosts the 2nd largest aerospace industry in the country.
Yet all that means nothing if violence and crime compromise livability and street safety. So what is happening crime-wise? If we don’t know what is going on, how can we improve the quality of life?
COVID AND CRIME
The Denver Post newspaper recently used COVID and de-policing to explain crime fluctuations last year. On one hand, Denver had an explosion of homicides, from 63 in 2019 to 95 last year. On the other, certain crimes flatlined and dropped. The COVID pandemic, says the Post, did not seem to influence violent crime in the city. “Motor vehicle theft was flat before COVID, yet jumped by 37% in the 11 weeks before Floyd’s death. Larceny theft went the other direction: it was up 18% pre-COVID and then returned to 2016-19 levels.”
The Denver police Chief points to social stresses and COVID-related frustrations. "There’s a lot of negative emotion taking place out there…I think that there is some crossover into what we’re seeing in the homicide numbers. Typically, folks would resolve issues without resorting to violence."
Some researchers point away from social explanations and instead use the routine activity approach and crime opportunity theories (it’s easier to break into vacant stores shuttered by quarantine rules). They suggest the pandemic has impacted the routine activities of people and, therefore, crime patterns. The increase in murder, they suggest, is caused by more criminal guns on the street and fewer cops doing proactive stops to find them. Of course, if that were the case, violent crimes like robbery would be increasing.
Since last August the Denver robbery rate has dropped.
Further, routine activity approach suggests domestic violence and sexual crimes should go up since COVID quarantines keep more people indoors. Because domestic violence incidents emanate from behind closed doors in residential areas, more opportunities should produce increases in those crimes.
In Denver, domestic violence and sexual assault have declined 16% and 39% respectively.
Routine activity is a case of wanting to have your theory-cake and eat it too. Perhaps we should rename it “the-theory-that-really-isn't-a-theory-of-some-selected-crimes-but-not-others-in-some-cities-but-not-other-cities”.
Naw, that title doesn’t work. And that would not really be an explanatory theory but rather more of an after-the-fact travelogue of what I saw on my summer holiday.
What about de-policing, when police retreat from proactive crime prevention due to the BLM protests and racial unrest. For some reason, newspapers equate traffic stops with “proactive crime prevention”. In any case, the Denver data shows traffic stops have little impact on overall crime. The graphic in the Denver Post article actually shows the opposite – as traffic stops decrease, so too does crime. The truth is that most crime reports emerge from after-the-fact crime reporting, not from traffic stops.
The Denver Post article suggests there is a crisis of legitimacy between the public and the police and if people don’t trust the police, they won’t call them. If that is true, then crime rates should drop – which might explain Denver’s motor vehicle rates but not other increasing crime rates. And that brings us right back to cake-eating theory-making! Either de-policing increases crime, or it doesn’t. Or maybe it does for some crimes, in some circumstances, but not in others. Or maybe… oh, never mind.
Stick to the science. Theories need data and well-formulated hypotheses. The data suggest de-policing as a cause of crime blips does not work well. Neither does routine activity.
The Denver chief is probably right about social stresses from COVID cabin fever. Further, if you read this blog, you will know we've been saying for years that we must look elsewhere to explain crime blips. We need better prevention theory to rethink how we plan neighborhoods and create opportunities for healthy living that resists crime. We need more opportunities for pro-social behaviors and stronger neighborhood mediation and family support systems. We need local systems housed directly in the neighborhood where they are needed most, not centralized in city hall or police headquarters.
That falls squarely into community development and neighborhood planning more than criminology. It falls into the theory of SafeGrowth. Fortunately, some exciting new studies are recommending some new directions for researchers.
Martin Andresen and Tarah Hodgkinson’s latest study points the way for future academic theorizing. Their latest article, Environmental Criminology, Design and Victimization: What We Know, How We Have Failed, and Where We Need To Go, does a great job at throwing down the gauntlet for future researchers.
“If the focus of environmental criminology is to create specific and effective prevention strategies, these strategies need to be inclusive of all people. …For example, planning methodologies such as SafeGrowth integrate the learnings of environmental criminology with social and contextual concerns to create inclusive strategies with and by local residents that shift away from crime control for the few and toward inclusion, safety, and most importantly livability for the many."
Well done, Martin and Tarah, for pointing academic research towards a more productive future. We have much work to do.
by Gerard Cleveland and Gregory Saville
NOTE: My colleague Gerard Cleveland and I co-wrote this second part of last week's blog on “Defund the Police”. Gerry is a frequent contributor to the SafeGrowth blog. He is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-chair of the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.
Occasionally, SafeGrowth programmers benefit from exceptional problem-solving police officers. Other times they get little help from the police. When that happens, residents ask questions such as: Where are the police? Why are we spending so much on policing services? What is wrong?
Why does a disconnect exist between what works to make communities safe and what currently occurs within policing? In our view, the systemic blockages first emerge within the academy. And since training serves as the entry point to police subculture, we must start reforms at that early stage if we hope to create a different style of police service.
THE ROLE OF TRAINING
Over the past twenty-five years, we have taught thousands of police, federal agents, military units, and security personnel from across the globe. We find a disturbing commonality exists among most police training academies from places as diverse as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea or Qatar.
Why disturbing? Because most policing academies today hold four prevalent and dangerous myths. Police leaders and academy directors think these myths are unassailable truths. They are wrong.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #1
Academy instructors have no choice but to lecture to ensure that they get as much information to the recruits as possible. They do not have time to do otherwise. They must follow legally prescribed, State and Federal regulations and therefore lecturing serves as the most expedient method to get all the required information to the recruits. They assure everyone that they would like to do more adult learning and problem-solving in the classroom, but such efforts “take too much time.”
This “no time to train properly” mantra undermines the long-term success of new employees. If the objectives of the academy genuinely state a clear intention to focus on student learning, then agency and academy leaders must abandon their ineffective instructor-focused lessons and institute problem solving and adult learning strategies.
We described antidotes to this absurd “no time” mantra in our book You In Blue and in our work on National programs that we wrote such as Police Training Officer and Police PBL: Blueprint for The 21st Century.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #2
Defensive tactics and weapons training necessarily fill a substantial portion of the academy agenda because of the inherent dangers on the street that officers will face from day 1 of their careers.
Defensive tactics (DT) and firearms instructors have hijacked police training schedules and are responsible for much of the fear that exists both within the force and throughout the community. The DT and firearms instructors may have good intentions, but they are doing serious damage to the profession and to police-community relations.
We must stop allowing tactical or firearms instructors to “call the shots” when it comes to crisis training. These instructors are important and they provide a necessary skill, but their mandate must include broad-spectrum problem-solving options, coupled with a focus on working collaboratively with community crisis providers (such as mental health professionals) prior to, during and after violent escalation. Firearms and DT instructors should be trained extensively on the impacts that shootings, violence and vehicle accidents involving police have on the officers as well as the community.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #3
Discipline and adherence to a para-military code of behavior in the academy builds character, cohesion, respect for agency hierarchy and fosters professional pride among the recruits.
This is blue babble!
The concept that we must break down and then build up a new employee makes little sense when recruiters claim they hire only the best candidates. Boot camp may work for soldiers, but police must work within communities, engage intelligently and problem-solve cooperatively.
Yelling and shouting at new employees and telling them they know nothing achieves little except to waste precious training time and stoke the egos of the instructors doing the yelling. Further, we argue it creates an unhealthy role model in the minds of the recruits as to how they should treat people over whom they have power.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #4
Police trainers should discourage recruits from questioning orders, engaging in divergent thinking and challenging up the chain of command. Those practices increase dangers to officers because they may not, at critical times, follow orders when required to do so.
Discipline within the ranks serves as a safety mechanism for agencies and instilling that obligation to authority must begin at the academy.
No one doubts the need for discipline and following orders. These requirements exist in all professions and occupations. Numerous professionals learn to respect authority while engaging with each other to solve problems and employing problem-solving/adult learning methods in their training. Why then do police academies spend so much time on artificial discipline when there are much better techniques to enable self-controlled and socially motivated police officers who think critically?
REPLACING BLUE BABBLE MYTHS WITH TRUTHS
Public safety agencies need to work as part of the communities they serve, not apart from them. They must do more than spout community problem-solving and catchwords in their mission statements and public speeches. Agencies must adopt those methods as their primary style of policing. For decades this has been the central goal of the Problem-Oriented Policing movement and the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.
Those are the movements that police leaders, political representatives and particularly police trainers need to support.
On many police vehicles it reads “to serve and protect.” The logical question arises, “how can the police serve and protect the public from a distance with officers clad in camo clothing, carrying tactical gear and framing interactions with the public as perilous to the officer’s survival?” The incessant high alert, ‘fear factor’ that has crept into police work – again perpetuated at the academy – has led officers to spend far too little time working directly with residents on local crime and violence concerns.
We will not achieve different responses from our police agencies so long as police leaders allocate inordinate amounts of resources to security and suppression equipment as well as tactical training and so little time to community engagement initiatives. We propose that diverting funds to problem-solving training in cooperation with the community will not only garner better crime reduction, but it will enhance police and community cooperation, trust and positive engagement.
If city managers and police leaders fail to act, the noise from the activist groups calling to Defund the Police will grow louder and soon begin to resonate with more and more reasonable, pro-police members of the community. The time for the combat cop has ended. We should reinvent the age when officers and the community work together to make neighborhoods safe for both the police and the public.
by Gregory 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 Tarah Hodgkinson
Over the past two weeks, the United States erupted after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Centuries of violence and mistreatment of people of colour in America galvanized an entire nation. Cities across the country are burning. Footage of police violence during these protests is available on every media outlet.
In response to this death and others, demands to defund the police are emerging across the United States. These arguments suggest that policing in America more than just a few “bad apples,” but rather a “bad barrel.” While the support for this suggestion is mixed, there are several successful policing reforms that deserve more attention. One of those appears in You In Blue and it encapsulates the decade-long movement to reform police training with Problem-Based Learning and Emotional Intelligence.
However, defunding the police does not mean shutting down policing altogether. Rather, it is a process of redistributing a portion of police budgets towards community-based models of safety and prevention. Policing accounts for over $142 billion in the United States each year and police budgets are continuing to grow. This is occurring despite the fact that many other social services, like health care and education struggle for funding across the United States.
REORGANIZING POLICE BUDGETS
Some cities are starting to take notice and reorganizing their policing budgets. In Los Angeles, the city cut $150 million of the LAPD budget this week. In Minneapolis, the city of George Floyd’s murder, the city council has announced its intention to disband the police department.
Canada is also being affected by the movement as Toronto city council is putting forth a motion to defund the police and the Toronto Police Chief, Mark Saunders, has announced his resignation.
What is particularly interesting about these cases is not only are the city’s defunding or completely restructuring the police, but they are using that money to reinvest in their local communities. Los Angeles mayor Garcetti is promising to redistribute this funding to local communities of colour. Minneapolis city council is planning to invest in community-led prevention.
This brings us back to community-led prevention as the main philosophy of SafeGrowth. In our book SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhood Safety and Livability, we describe how, over the past decade, we have successfully refined our approach for neighborhood-based planning and crime prevention. Perhaps someday we will look back at this moment in history as the beginning of truly significant police reforms to build safety and improve livability in all neighbourhoods?
by Gregory Saville
Today I write about my friend and mentor, retired University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Herman Goldstein. Today, Herman Goldstein died at home. He was 89.
When I first met Herman 25 years ago, I was impressed by how he so seamlessly dissected arguments, one logical piece after the other, and reconstituted them into a much clearer picture. He did this in his scholarship and, when I asked him personal advice, he did the same. It was a clarity I found refreshing in an academic world rife with politics and insecurities. He helped steer me through a sea of misdirection. It was that kind of clarity that led to him winning the Stockholm Prize, criminology's Nobel, in 2018.
A CAREER ASKING QUESTIONS
Herman’s career goes back to the foundations of modern police reform. In the late 1950s he was a staff investigator for the American Bar Foundation’s 10 year study of criminal justice, where he began riding with and observing police officers. It led to the earliest-known reflections about the nature of police discretion, a seminal finding that influences policing today. In the 1960s he worked on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and in the 1970s, the New York City Knapp Commission on Police Corruption, following the Serpico scandals.
Few were more central, and influential, in writing about the police than Herman Goldstein. However, in my mind the single most formative idea by Herman – and one that resonates today more than ever – emerged from his 1977 book Policing a Free Society:
“The strength of a democracy and the quality of life enjoyed by its citizens are determined in large measure by the ability of the police to discharge their duties.”
How many other policing scholars have the insight to study the reality of street policing and discover that a healthy democracy lies in the quality of our police?
In 1979, and then in 1990, he wrote about Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) as path to a safer community and a new relationship between police and community. It has dozens of guidebooks, annual conferences, and publications, coordinated today by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing directed by Mike Scott.
I recently read Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces and Vitale’s The End of Policing. These authors offer salient points about the inherent flaws in policing, but they miss one essential message – they say nothing about what policing does right. They ignored decades of problem-oriented policing that has cut crime and bonded neighborhoods and their cops. They provided not a single reference or hint that problem-oriented policing even existed!
That is irresponsible writing. If they had done their homework, they would know, as Mike Scott once wrote, “that police accountability is intricately linked to society’s understanding of the police function.”
THE BEST IDEA AROUND
Thirty years after the publication of Herman’s Problem-Oriented Policing, and in spite of the persistent crashing of one trend-wave after another, the POP model still floats atop the ocean of police reform movements. There is simply nothing quite like it and I’m stunned when I teach police academy instructors, field training officers, or police leaders, and they know very little about POP. Shame on them! For goodness sake, get a little Goldstein in your life and wake up!
One elegant message that Herman taught me – and that all crime prevention and policing people should learn – is that if you want to make things better, look to where things are done better.
Problem-Oriented Policing is such a place. Herman Goldstein was the thought-leader who created it. It’s now up to courageous leaders to make problem-oriented policing happen beyond the piecemeal lip service we see today, hidden behind the armored personnel carriers, night vision goggles, and predictive algorithms.
Herman Goldstein showed us how to make policing better. We owe him a debt. I know I certainly do.
by Gregory Saville
As the year ends, I’m remembering the air of electricity and innovation emerging at the Helsingborg 22, Smart City Summit in Sweden that I attended in November. It was a remarkable event! It triggered a thought that sticks in my mind…
By 2030 over 60% of the entire world will live in urban centers. Most of the leading industrial countries of the world are already predominantly urban: over 80% urban in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, Chile, Sweden, South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil.
It’s similar in India, that historically so-rural subcontinent of villages and farms. A decade ago, I recall listening to India’s Minister for External Affairs describe the rapid urbanization of his country, a billion-person behemoth soon to top China as the most populous country on the planet. Today it has some of the world’s largest cities.
We’ve also seen the eruption of the megalopolis – the megacity once prophesized in Sci-Fi fare. The latest UN statistics now say it’s real:
SMART CITY IN SWEDEN – THE ANTIDOTE?
This brought to mind the H22 Smart City Summit. Unlike the Smart Growth planning program, the Smart City movement is of much more recent vintage. It talks of artificial intelligence, how Internet-of-Things data devices might better manage transport, power, water supply, schools, hospitals, utilities, and even crime. It proposes a new age of connectedness and livability.
Just imagine… no garbage trucks, massive cuts in energy use, increased quality of life, smart LED street lights with sensors to watch street conditions, faster routing for self-driving cars, smart drone shopping that avoids parking lots, automatic air pollution elimination, faster emergency response for medical and fire emergencies, and so forth.
Helsingborg is taking a close look at all this. It is spending time and money to test new Smart City ideas and it plans to take neighborhood quality of life, urban planning, and urban governance to a new level. In 2022 it will show the world in the H22 Exposition.
In November, I joined Ifeoma Ebo from the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, to present our work on SafeGrowth and CPTED in 15 high-crime New York public housing projects. The approach of our talented SafeGrowth team members was decidedly low-tech with plenty of community involvement. Summit participants seemed to see a link in our project to Smart Cities of the future.
Some think Smart Cities are a utopian dream that will destroy democracy.
Maybe that’s true! When we wrote about Smart Cities in our SafeGrowth book last year, the last chapter, A Vision for the Future, described one vision – except that was a dystopian, not utopian, vision.
I’ve also blogged here about another Smart City innovation – computer algorithms that try to predict crime, the so-called predictive policing. Since then, I’ve followed it in two cities that tried, and abandoned, predictive policing - one in California and another in my own home city. It seems we have a very long way to go.
Either way, Smart City concepts deserve careful monitoring and thinking. And given the explosive rate of urban growth around the world, we might have no better choice but to get the Smart City idea right. Helsingborg's H22 Smart City movement gives us a chance to do just that.
by Gregory Saville
I just watched the latest TV reality cop show. There are now almost 50 such programs on television screens around the developed world, most jumping on the bandwagon of the successful Cops program from 1989 ("what you gonna do when they come for you"?).
To those of us living in the active-shooter-killing-field that is modern America, it’s tempting to see cop reality shows as, well…reality. This is especially so considering the horrific news of 32 innocents fatally shot by domestic white terrorists over the past week in Texas, Ohio and California. Cop reality shows must be real! Right?
But the truth about cop reality shows is quite different and to those working to reduce crime in the long term, they don’t do us any favors. Distortions of the truth are never the truth.
Reality shows have become to television what professional wrestling is to martial arts: entertaining, absurd, filled with predictable characters and laden with inevitable storylines. We all know it’s fake – or at least half-true – but it’s like when you see that copy of some trashy grocery store tabloid: you know Queen Elisabeth did not tell Prince Charles to dance naked holding a cup of tea in the lobby of Buckingham Palace. Yet it’s just gross and gratuitous enough to attract us in a comic-book fake way that we just can’t resist.
REALITY THAT ISN'T REAL
The cop version of those reality shows are the silliest. True, they show real people and the tragedies in their lives, but they show us only the worst moments. (To be fair, the higher quality shows state exactly that).
Unfortunately what they don’t state is that we see little of what led up to the events on screen and nothing whatsoever of what will happen afterward.
They show no dull driving on routine patrol. No waiting for calls. And certainly no paperwork – the common-place drudgery that occupies the real cop’s life and takes up far more time than the TV snippets on screen. In other words, reality shows present far less than the real story of real police work. They show a snapshot.
We don’t even get the before/after story about the officers whom the cameras follow. We know nothing of their life, the emotional impact of those calls on their families, or even what they do after their shift (where many of the real stories unfold). While the stories of the victims and suspects in the show might be an uninvited open book, the behind-the-scenes police stories are too personal and verboten to the producers. It is not that they should be included! It is more that because they are not, the real “reality” is hidden.
But these shows have a much more insidious impact on the crime prevention story.
Reality TV producers say nothing about the long-term crime and safety in the neighborhoods in their programs, because they don’t really care about that. Has life worsened for people in those places? The officers respond, arrest, and patrol and, while the impact of such strategies is clear to criminologists (they don’t work), that evidence isn’t part of their TV reality.
If the evidence was somehow included about the truth of crime in modern-day America (and many other developed countries), it would appear as it actually is - in a steep decline.
Cops reality shows reveal moments of tragedy and crisis because, frankly, that’s what brings viewers to advertisers.
That’s not reality. It’s commerce.
by Gregory Saville
In the 1960s, Abraham Maslow, the brilliant psychologist who uncovered the nature of basic human needs, said “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. In spelling out this law of innate human behavior, he echoed a concept called The Law of the Hammer by an earlier scholar,
"We tend to formulate our problems in such a way as to make it seem that the solutions to those problems demand precisely what we already happen to have at hand."
This afternoon I searched a popular law enforcement website for police training conferences and workshops in June. I counted 193 courses and workshops across the country and that was only June! There is obviously no lack of training opportunities for American police officers.
Digging a bit deeper I discovered that, of those 193 courses, 75 were focused on SWAT-techniques, weapons training, and defensive tactics and another 50 covered investigation methods (interrogation, homicides). The rest included a mix of digital photography, lock picking, and drone usage.
A few seminars included an obsolete, 50-year old recruit field training program called FTO. Another taught how to deploy chemical aerosol projectiles.
In other words, almost 75% of all courses in June dealt with retroactive investigation long after a crime occurs (investigation, after all, requires a crime to have already happened), or they taught techniques in the use of, and response to, force - the bluntest hammer of them all.
WHAT WAS MISSING?
There is no shortage of training opportunities in policing, but the majority use very similar hammers and, I respectfully submit, end up with the same results. We need something different.
Missing from this buffet of training courses:
To a person with a hammer…
This year two upcoming conferences provide a different set of tools into the hands of officers and community members seeking a different way forward. These conferences are rooted in long-proven police methods and educational strategies that create a more comprehensive set of problem-solving skills. None of those 193 training courses cover these themes.
THE POLICE PBL CONFERENCE
For 15 years the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning has offered education, certification, and skills-training for instructors, academy educators, and field trainers in modern education methods and mental tools for intelligent problem-solving.
THE POP CONFERENCE
The Problem-Oriented Policing Conference features projects from around the world where officers partner with communities to resolve difficult crime and disorder issues. Fellow officers show how to tackle, (and more importantly, prevent), gang violence, shootings, neighborhood disorder, sexual assaults, robberies, and many others.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
"As I watched my class struggle, I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single-most overlooked skill we fail to teach students!" – Paul Barnswell
This quote was an accurate description of my experience teaching at a university over the last several years. Students entered the classroom, sat down, not even acknowledging the person sitting beside them and began immediately looking at their phones until the class started. Sometimes even after the class started!
When asked questions, they looked shocked they were not getting a lecture for two straight hours. When asked to get into groups, they would awkwardly look around, uncomfortable that they might have to engage with others in their class.
There are a lot of articles and stories about millennials and their lack of social skills. But I don’t just see this in millennials. I see this in meetings I have with adults from all age groups as they quickly rely more on their phones for connection than each other.
The extent of the problem wasn’t evident until I taught a class of 25, fourth-year students. Using problem-based learning methods (PBL), the same approach we use in SafeGrowth, students were constantly talking to each other, working on group projects, participating in activities, coming up with ideas and creating solutions in teams.
CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
In their feedback at the end of the semester they said something surprising – they made friends! For the first time in university they felt that they knew people and could connect. This was the moment I realized that conversational competence, listening skills, conflict management, and emotional intelligence were more important than any of the content I had been teaching. They had learned how to talk to each other!
It is the same success emerging from a field training program for police recruits that also employs PBL and emotional intelligence – the Police Training Officer program – and it was recently adopted as PBL/emotional intelligence curricula upgrades into the teaching at a small number of leading police academies.
In an article entitled The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us, George Monbiot described how youth are lonelier than ever and the dramatic effects on our health and communities.
After witnessing media reports of incident after incident of excessive force and mistreatment, and a lack of police communication skills to prevent those incidents, I decided to broaden this style of teaching beyond just a fourth-year class.
A NEW WAY TO TEACH POLICING
Thus, this year, I introduced PBL into an introductory policing course in which many of the 70 students planned to become police officers. Did they learn the structure of policing in Canada and about different types of policing strategies and issues nationally and internationally? Of course! But they also learned how to talk to each other.
They were tested on their listening skills and then practiced those skills with a partner. They reflected on conflicts in their own lives, how they managed it and how to manage it more appropriately. They read You in Blue: Guide for the New Cop and learned how to improve their self-awareness and emotional intelligence. They explored mental health, work-life balance, and poor management in policing. We discussed how to have better conversations by acknowledging the speaker's position and listening with the intent to understand, not just to reply.
Consider that most police training includes only a few hours of verbal judo, this course provided far more time to work on the most important skills in policing – social interaction and listening.
Equally important, when we reflected on the class in the last day, over 90% of the students responded they had made new friends in the class. Maybe the “Age of Loneliness” is not killing us. Maybe we just need to help our students (and new police officers), learn how to better connect with others in their classes and in their communities!
by Gregory Saville
Every now and then it is worth examining the mechanics of successful crime reduction programs to see what parts work best. With that in mind, I was impressed by this year’s International Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Providence, Rhode Island. As a regular presenter at the conference, I am always encouraged by the remarkable finalists in the prestigious Herman Goldstein Award program for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
This year's Goldstein Award winner was a two-time winner, the Chula Vista police department, who developed a project to reduce domestic violence in that city. (They also won the award ten years ago)
A few miles south of downtown San Diego lies the small city of Chula Vista, population 267,000. Over the past few years, calls to police for domestic violence (DV) persisted as the second most common occurrence. At a time when total police calls dropped 10%, domestic violence stubbornly refused to budge.
Like many other police agencies, the cops in Chula Vista had already partnered with a domestic violence advocacy organization to provide 24/7 joint services, but even this did not stem the tide of violence inside the home.
In collaboration with researcher Deborah Lamm Weisel and police crime analysts Nanci Plouffe, Kristen Miggans, and Karen Schmerler, the team began examining the problem in detail. It’s notable that Karen was also the lead analyst with the Chula Vista team that won their 2009 award. (Obviously, a major part of prevention success includes talented analysts like Karen who know how to put programs together).
WHAT DID THEY DO?
In addition to analysing a wide array of data, they also included informal research by a Chula Vista officer who conducted follow-up visits with some domestic violence victims. All that data provided crucial facts about victims and offenders in Chula Vista and gave them the necessary context. As we say in SafeGrowth, diagnosis must precede prescription because context is everything!
The Chula Vista team also discovered how three other police jurisdictions had successfully implemented a graduated response to DV, now termed focused deterrence. They tailored their own graduated response program and, tellingly, a large number of patrol officers eagerly asked to join the program, mostly from frustration about ineffective traditional responses.
Graduated response is based on an elevated approach to each subsequent call for domestic violence. Since many domestic homicides emerge after repeated DV incidents, the graduated response provides officers a consistent way to intervene in the cycle sooner, not later. If more than one DV call emerges, each subsequent call is met by deeper interventions, from education and counseling to progressively stricter responses.
The Chula Vista crime analysts assessed the results after a year. When they measured the results they found DV finally dropped by 23%. Calls for police service also declined unlike the nearby control area where both incidents and calls worsened. Their data collection allowed them to discount possible displacement to that nearby control area.
The Chula Vista team successfully tailored a new program and made life safer for domestic partners. They helped increase public confidence in police and increased officer safety by cutting domestic incidents.
Most importantly, especially for the children, relatives and friends of domestic partners, they cut the fact and the risk of domestic violence in their city.
Congratulations to the Chula Vista team and their partners.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Once considered a breeding ground for crime and violence, today New York City is one of the safest large cities in the USA. While this cannot be attributed to any single strategy, there is no doubt establishing close and positive relationships between public and police promises effective problem-solving and quality of life in the long run.
It was not always so! In the past, the NYPD employed a number of strategies to improve public safety. Some of the best-known and controversial tactics include broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk. Between 2005 and 2013, the NYPD relied extensively on stop-and-frisk. Unfortunately, in 2013 the way they applied the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.
In addition, research found no correlation between this tactic and crime rates and, given increasing tensions between the public and police, NYPD rethought their approach.
NEIGHBORHOODS ARE THE KEY
In 2015 NYPD introduced a neighborhood policing model. The focus of the approach is permanently locating an officer - an NCO - within a neighborhood and building personal relations with residents on a daily basis. While this echoes earlier, often criticized, forms of community policing, the New York NCO program attempts to take advantage of the intense personal knowledge of local areas.
It also provides officers with "sector integrity," allowing them time within their beat away from calls for service and assigning them to that neighborhood long enough to develop personal relationships.
NCOs focus not only on developing leads to tackle serious crime, but they also partner with residents for long-term problem-solving. As the NYPD website says: “sector officers play the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”
In effect, this is a resurgence of the local beat cop of pre-radio days, except with a problem-solving focus and without the old style police call box. The NCO program also resonates with our methods in SafeGrowth where we teach residents how to partner with police, create planning teams, and target unsafe activities to create neighborhood safety plans.
NCOs - NEIGHBORHOOD COORDINATION OFFICERS
The cornerstone of NYPD neighborhood policing are the NCOs - Neighborhood Coordination Officers whose daily presence within the assigned neighborhood and respectful demeanor help build relationships.
I witnessed the positive effect of this approach on several occasions while in New York: residents would greet their NCOs with hugs while NCOs would share their personal phone number with the residents should they need assistance with crime-related issues. The goal is for officers to be part of the community and be seen as an ally as opposed to an enemy.
According to the New York City Police Foundation, in neighborhoods implementing neighborhood policing since 2015, shootings have declined 58% faster and the number of arrests declined 10% faster compared to the rest of the city. In the past two years, NCOs on foot patrol have met thousands of residents in hundreds of meetings, thereby building deeper local relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city.
As NCO policing continues to expand to precincts across all five New York City boroughs, the approach has been recently applied to transit. NCOs will patrol the same subway stations and train lines to provide safety and build relationships, in this case with frequent riders. The beat cop, so common in another era, has now returned to the neighborhood.
by Greg Saville
Year-end SafeGrowth blogs often reflect the year ahead, the kind of future we want to build, and the successes we’ve made in the past year. This year there was plenty to report! But at this moment I find that impossible to think about. Only hours ago there was yet another mass shooting in Denver, Colorado, this one in a townhouse apartment project about 30 miles south of where I’m now writing this blog.
What does one say when officers respond to a domestic situation that turns into an ambush by a well-armed assailant? How does one respond to the fact that five sheriff deputies were downed on arrival, one fatally, and another two residents were also shot (but thankfully, survived), before the gunman was killed by police. Three shot citizens, four injured officers, one officer dead! Terrible...
I have been personally involved in police fatalities with officers I worked alongside. I know the consequence of emotions in the aftermath. I know the shock and raw thirst for vengeance, and the frustration at having no one alive to hold accountable (and the inevitable search to hold someone, or something, accountable).
It’s a helluva way to end the year!
WHAT TO DO?
First, we must ensure there are heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the slain and injured officers, and to the residents shot in this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. Then we need time for grieving and eventually an inquiry into how, and why, this happened. Steps for prevention and safety must follow.
But when all that is done, when it is time to move on, there is one lasting thing that we must retain, or reclaim...Hope! That is not a small line item from our emotional ledger; it is the most important one!
It is not the easy kind of optimistic hope that blinds us to the realities of obstacles along the way, like the reality of mental instability, substance abuse, too many weapons too easily obtained, or the vicissitudes of risk in an unpredictable job.
Rather it is the kind of hope that provides us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. That is the kind of hope I’ve seen in all the successful SafeGrowth practitioners over the past year (the most recent being Herb Sutton from the last blog). It’s also the kind of hope that we need to share with our fellow citizens in troubled communities as we develop new ways to tackle the problems of our day - homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of violence like those we saw this morning.
Hope and optimism! That is what is needed to move forward and build a better future. That is difficult to see when faced with the darkness of violence. But hope provides a candle in that darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Our sincere condolences to all victims of violence this past year. In their memory, may we dedicate ourselves to making our communities safer in 2018.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
It is difficult to discuss community safety without discussing the police. That means we need unbiased research about how they operate. For example, Jerome Skolnick’s book Justice Without Trial (1966) and William Westley’s 1950s research looked inside the police blue wall. They spent months studying officers as they did their jobs, observing them where they worked and interviewing them in the field - a rare style of research called ethnography.
While much research exists on policing in North America, there are few in-depth ethnographic studies. This is happening at a time when, as police scholar Monique Marks suggests, large scale changes in policing demands in-depth and objective knowledge on how this change is occurring and where it should be headed. She reminds us that most of our understanding of the underlying processes in these organizations relies on out-dated studies.
Why do so few take on ethnographic policing research? This is largely a result of university research budget constraints and the pressure to publish in academia. Ethnographic studies take a significant amount of time and resources, and may only result in a few publications. There is also a concern that police organizations are not open to research, a perception not completely unfounded. However, in my PhD research, that has not been my experience.
Most police organizations I researched rolled out the welcome mat. I was brought in by all levels of management with varying levels of experience. They were eager to hear about my research goals, connect potential research participants and even come in during their vacation to participate.
Perhaps the world of policing is changing and with it the players? Police leaders are more educated than ever before and increasingly understand and value the research skills outsiders offer. But it may also be because my research goals appear relatively benign.
OPENNESS TO RESEARCH?
In fact, some police organizations are less open to certain kinds of research. One obvious example is research that has potential to investigate problematic behaviour or portray police in a negative light. Unsurprisingly, officers continue to be reluctant to disclose everything to an outside researcher. As one constable stated “We are going to hold things back. If we don’t know you, we aren’t going to spill our guts on the first round. We need to know we can trust you.”
Trust is essential in the policing world, as characterized by another interviewee who said “you get lied to constantly. Every day! Multiple times a day. You learn to hold back and question everything.”
This openness to research, but only certain types of research, often results in simple and descriptive conclusions that fail to critique or innovate. Much more interesting, and promising, are those able to spend time to build the trust necessary to see behind the curtain of the policing world – and not lose their objectivity in the process.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
When you ask people to provide an example of crime prevention, the first program they mention is Neighbourhood Watch (or Block Watch). This is not surprising considering that for 45 years it has been implemented extensively. Police departments offer toolkits for residents and many neighbourhoods sport signs that say “Block Watch Community – All suspicious behaviours will be reported to the police.”
Neighbourhood Watch originated in Seattle in 1972 when the Law and Justice Planning Office conducted a survey and found that residents were most concerned about burglary. They created a program to:
The program produced massive declines in burglary rates (48-61%). Thus, Neighbourhood Watch was deemed an exemplary project and, backed by the National Crime Prevention Council and most police departments, it took off across North America.
Some positive results continue today. For example, British research shows it cuts burglary in UK neighbourhoods by 16% to 26%.
However, Neighbourhood Watch has been subject to considerable criticism. Research demonstrated that expansions of the program in different cities produce positive results only in middle-class neighbourhoods that already had strong social cohesion. Other studies found that it tended to have negative consequences, including increasing fear of crime.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
So what happened to this exemplary project?
Current versions of Neighbourhood Watch have missed the mark in addressing crime problems and mobilizing residents to address them. Some accounts claim they do not encourage neighbours to organize around crime issues that they care about.
Instead, today’s programs are a shadow of what they once were; they play lip service to a once well-designed program by posting signs and handing out flyers. In most case, residents call their local police service to install signs and give residents information on how to secure their homes or notice suspicious behaviour. Unfortunately, they miss the point regarding what contributed to the success of the original program – people!
THE MISSING INGREDIENT
This is in direct opposition to the action research methodology that underpins SafeGrowth - to address relevant crime issues with local residents, not to or for them. When people and context are removed from the equation, all we are left with is a feel-good program.
We don’t need signs, flyers and more door locks. We need engaged neighbourhoods where police and residents work together on crime issues that matter most and then co-create lasting solutions. That is how we move forward.
by Greg Saville
I first met Norm Stamper twenty years ago when he took over as Chief of the Seattle Police Department. He was a thought-leader with a PhD, an author, an advocate for community policing, he had decades of police experience in the San Diego Police. And now he was leading a major city police agency!
The Renaissance Man was in charge.
All this was a decade before troubles brewing in Seattle Police led to a federal government Consent Decree to repair a department that had gone wrong. You may remember Chief Stamper when he retired in 2000 shortly after the Seattle WTO protests, the so-called Battle of Seattle. We quickly forget how the loss of a great leader costs us all.
Norm will be the keynote speaker at this year's annual conference of the Police Society for Problem Based Learning. His message resonates now more than ever.
Norm's recent book, To Protect and Serve: How to fix America's Police, and the mandate of the PSPBL, provide the ideal recipe in a profession that so badly needs new ingredients. This year's PSPBL conference Stepping Into Innovation, Aug. 16-18 is in Tucson, Arizona. It will host a roster of talented speakers with tactics for success in training, education, emotional intelligence and problem-solving. Norm Stamper will keynote.
If you care about 21st Century policing, this is the conference to see.
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”.
After some bleak years of de-funding, the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference is back! The 26th POP conference reappeared last year after a funding hiatus and this year it will be in Tempe, Arizona, October 24-26
The conference program says it all:
Problem-Oriented Policing Conference is often described by attendees as the most substantive policing conference they've ever attended. Each year, police officers and police leaders, and all the ranks in between, as well as crime consultants and crime researchers, come together to discuss what they've learned about trying to reduce different crime and safety problems.
Along with complimentary problem-solving conventions such as the recent International Police Problem-Based Learning conference and last year’s International CPTED Association Conference, the International POP Conference is one of the few global policing conferences focused on the daily business of everyday policing.
The problem-solving conferences are based in practical cop experiences. In other words, they are real-life. This year’s POP conference does have topics tapping into recent controversies dominating the media - Police Legitimacy and Policing Terrorism - but the program is also loaded with crime and safety themes:
There will be numerous Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing Award submissions from around the world. And, as always, Professor Herman Goldstein will attend the event.
Goldstein, the founder of problem-oriented policing, is the man who started it all. If you don’t know Goldstein’s history, it is online and well worth the read. The conference pays homage to his remarkable legacy.
Ancient Greece is the birthplace of modern democracy and among its most powerful legends was the Phoenix, the mythical bird that upon death regenerates in the ashes of its predecessor. The Phoenix represents the fall of a failed society and its rise into something greater.
The state of our democracy and the Phoenix came to mind this week while reflecting on the turbulence in policing. Some of that turbulence shows up in this blog over the past 5 years in
Yet the history of policing has shown, like the Phoenix, it can arise anew. For example, Problem-Oriented Policing and community policing in the 1980s arose from the abuses of the 1960s. If there was ever a time for a police Phoenix, this is it.
The 2016 Conference of the Police Society for Problem Based Learning is the best place to find it. The PBL group has been creating new ways forward for a decade, such as emotional intelligence training, new field training, and upgraded academy training.
This year’s conference theme Warriors, Guardians, Problem-Solvers - Defining Roles Through PBL seizes on the central recommendation of President Obama’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing to transform police warriors to community guardians. Seven years ago this was the same theme recommended by educator and legal specialist Gerry Cleveland in his 2009 blog, Neighborhood Safety - The Guardian and the Vanguard.
COMMISSIONER EDWARD F. DAVIS
Retired Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis will keynote the event. Commissioner Davis is not only a leader in alternative policing models, he is also well versed in responding to crisis. He was top cop during the Boston Marathon terror attack.
Says the conference brochure: “Police tactics are under a microscope. There are many causes for this turbulent climate but at the top of the list is police training and how police leaders and trainers respond. The focus of our conference is to provide some answers for trainers and leaders that will clarify police roles in the 21st Century.”
Answers like that certainly sound like the beginning of an authentic Phoenix-rebirth.
It was called the playpen of countercultures, a place where “sirens make white streaks of sound in the sky” and “a grownup swinging town” (Frank Sinatra said that). I recently visited San Francisco en route from our SafeGrowth summit.
I love this town! It has art, music, walkability, interesting streets, and culture at every turn. If you are bored here, check your pulse.
True, it’s housing costs are out of reach and traffic is a nightmare. But consider the rest: Eclectic and world famous architecture. Birthplace of the United Nations. Mother to Silicon Valley and the world’s biggest tech startups. Home to film noir, hippies, the largest and oldest Chinatown outside Asia, cable cars and the Golden Gate bridge.
San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities.
All except for one glaring problem; major scandals in the SFPD - the San Francisco Police Department!
There are cases of officer theft, coverups, and racism. One case of police racism from 2012 may have tainted 3,000 criminal cases. And right after that, another group of officers were snagged in yet another racism controversy last year.
Then there are the police shootings of homeless men!
Disturbing videos have been showing up on YouTube. One from a shooting of a homeless man appeared yesterday.
Another shooting from December has gone viral. I rarely post graphic YouTube videos as they tell little of the story and I find them gratuitous. Yet, even to the dispassionate observer, it is becoming obvious an ominous pattern is emerging.
THE FEDS STEP IN
Retired SFPD police chief George Gascon, and current San Francisco district attorney, is leading the call for accountability in San Fransisco. I met Gascon a few years ago at a national police leadership workshop and he seemed an astute leader. If he's calling for reform, there are serious problems!
And now the federal government is investigating? How does this happen? Are the combat cops in charge?
I have known a few San Francisco officers over the years and they were as conscientious and dedicated as anywhere. I know one particular police executive, a friend of mine, who spent years in San Francisco PD and today is among the most outstanding police leaders in the country. Trustworthy and true, she exemplifies excellence!
WHAT IS GOING ON?
Perhaps these charges are overblown, media hype? One thing is certain: The ability of SFPD to discharge their duties determines, to a large measure, the quality of life citizens enjoy in that great city.
San Francisco is a fabulous place and it deserves a great police department.
How does democratic policing differ from military regimes and police states? That question was best asked in the now classic Policing a Free Society by Herman Goldstein, the leading police scholar of the past 25 years.
Nowhere do those differences surface more sharply than when social unrest arises or public confidence falters. How do democratic cops respond? Adhering to democratic principles, Goldstein suggests, is the key.
In truth, democratic policing shows up when leaders step up, admit fault, and set sail upon the turbulent sea of reform.
Such sailing shows up in the recent statements and actions of two police leaders - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay (now retired).
In New York police have made a major shift in enforcement strategies.
The article "Why Manhattan isn't going to arrest people for littering and public drinking", describes the end of the quality-of-life enforcement model of the Broken Window theory instituted in the early 1990s under Commission Bill Bratton.
BROKEN WINDOWS FIXED
Quality-of-life enforcement and Broken Windows was controversial from the start. Research has not been kind to it - crime declines occurred in places without it. The unintended consequence of Broken Windows was alienation of law-abiding minority communities who saw racism in every arrest.
In New York again, twenty years later, Commissioner Bratton is modifying policing strategies. That is one meaning of democratic policing - changing to meet the times, the data, and public sentiment.
And 90 miles south, in his brilliant Ted Talk, Commissioner Ramsay asks; "Once we fix the broken windows, then what?" Once we fix the broken windows, then what? The critical missing question!
Today it is answered pragmatically in SafeGrowth and academically in Robert Sampson’s book Great American City.
As Bratton and Ramsay demonstrate, great democratic policing is not when cops enforce the law, as important as that occasionally might be. It is when cops embrace the power of cohesive communities (and the dignity of human rights within them), adopt strategies that build them, partner with organizations that master them, and then guard them with every fiber.
An antipode is the spot on the other side of the world from where you stand. If you stood in Washington, DC and tunneled through the Earth you’d emerge near Perth, Western Australia (well, more or less).
And since the White House last year released their vision for police reforms, Report on the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, that tunnel will have many advantages aside from 4,000 fewer surface travel miles.
Following months of anti-police violence and racial discord on American streets, the Task Force report responded with a far-reaching call for police reform. Given similar, albeit less dramatic, calls for reform elsewhere across the globe, this report is an oracle for a better future in many countries.
FROM WARRIORS TO GUARDIANS
The Task Force wants to transform police culture from warriors to community guardians. Problem-based learning (PBL) and the field training equivalent called PTO were two ways it recommended getting there. This delighted those of us who developed and wrote those programs for the COPS office and the Reno Police a decade ago.
That is where the Washington-to-Perth tunnel comes handy.
My colleague Gerry Cleveland and myself spent last month working with curricula developers and instructors at the Western Australia Police Academy north of Perth. Coincidentally these were major steps that accomplished many of exact recommendations in the Task Force report.
A BETTER 21ST CENTURY
Walking onto the WA Academy you admire the beautiful ultramodern architecture. It reminded me of a futuristic Star Fleet Academy from the sci-fi Star Trek series. The physical impression is that forward-thinking training makes sense here.
We certified a number of staff in PBL and emotional intelligence (EQ) skills, the very lifeblood flowing through the Task Force report.
Of course the WA Academy is building upon work already underway elsewhere. For example the academy in South Dakota has a significant head start. They too have trained their staff in PBL/EQ and made major steps into that same future.
If you read our recent book, You In Blue, about this education reform movement, the progress in South Dakota figures prominently.
Similarly at the LAPD academy, PBL trained instructors have made changes to curricula. In the late 1990s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police academy was among the first to experiment with PBL.
ADVANTAGES DOWN UNDER
But Western Australia might have three advantages.
[Note to Washington - A Tunnel-to-Perth might be helpful right about now.]
As we end 2015, the term Kafkaesque comes to mind. It describes some hopeless struggle against bureaucratic, sometimes malevolent, machines. Since this is a future we want to avoid, the following cautionary tale seemed an appropriate year-end story.
Franz Kafka was a 19th Century German writer with books about“surreal predicaments and incomprehensible bureaucratic powers” in which his characters descend into alienation in the face of absurdity.
Think of films like The Trial by Orson Wells, Mulholland Drive by David Lynch or the futuristic crime dystopia by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange.
Kafkaesque thoughts surfaced when I read the 2013 and 2015 programs of the Police Innovation Conferences. These conferences were not really about police innovation as you might expect. Rather they were technology conferences offering a tech version of police innovation with some very cool gizmos such as drones and robots, brain fingerprinting, and body cams.
The gizmos look cool and I’m sure they have useful applications.
However in today’s police environment there is a much bigger picture. If this were one single technology conference it would be a fun curiosity. But today policing is inundated with so many conferences of similar themes, they detour rather than direct us to a sustainable, post-Ferguson future. A small sample:
CANDLES IN THE DARK
I have yet to see conferences about innovations in police training, such as basic academy courses that teach cops how to work with urban planners to build safer, CPTED-sensitive parking lots before carjackings and car thefts unfold.
Where are sessions on innovative methods to help get cops out of cars and into neighborhoods to work with social activists and faith groups to cut the roots of gang membership before the shooting starts.
There is little available about emotional intelligence skills that arm officers with better conflict resolution and situational awareness tactics to disarm offenders without killing them, or risking officers lives.
To be fair, there are a few candles in the dark - conferences focused on practical, grass-roots police work such as this year’s Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Portland. There are also a few small conferences such as this year’s Police Society for Problem-Based Learning in Madison or the International CPTED Association conference in Calgary. But these conferences do not command the policy discourse. What does? The Armadillo!
One session at these tech conferences was “Empowering the community - low tech crime prevention”. This session was about how police retrofitted an armored combat military vehicle called an Armadillo with video cams, audio surveillance, and so forth.
The goal? Deploy the Armadillo...
“to high crime areas or places that have experienced a spike in public nuisance type events. The Armadillo feels right at home when parked directly in front of a drug house or problem bar… a symbolic representation of restorative justice in places that have demonstrated public nuisance activity..”
“At home in front of a drug house or problem bar?” No doubt there is honest intention here, yet you just know Kafka is rising from the dead!
“A symbol of restorative justice?” Seldom was a more Kafkaesque phrase served up in the name of public safety.
In the spirit of a more common-sensical and balanced future, may we dispense with tactics that awaken dead German writers and get on with the task of building safer, collaborative neighborhoods in 2016.
Happy New Year!
This week I heard from two old friends, an ex-police chief and a current chief. Echoing sentiments in our recent book You In Blue, one offered, “there needs to be a new narrative”. The other, surprisingly, referred me to the controversial anti-police book by Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police Power in America.
Our Enemies attempts to string together a series of violent police incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore into a wider historical chain stretching back decades. According to Williams, links showing up today - zero-tolerance, order-maintenance policing and quality-of-life policing - are but the latest manifestation of an age-old chain.
Agree or not, Williams is not the first to suggest alternatives to the criminal justice system. Restorative justice, CPTED, the Interrupters, and SafeGrowth are all modern examples. Williams’ examples are a tad more unconventional and less stable. (The now defunct Black Panthers is one.)
Still, Williams’ central theme has been widely researched in the police literature: “The police do provide an important community service - offering protection against crime. They do not do this job well, or fairly, and it is not their chief function, but they do it and it brings them legitimately.”
Williams curiously ignores decades of collaborative problem-solving in the POP world - no doubt because POP refutes his point. But the fact that most police basic training academies ignore POP, reinforces it.
A WORLD WITHOUT POLICE?
Williams asserts: “it is a bad habit of mind, a form of power-worship, to assume that things must be as they are, that they will continue to be as they have been... The first step toward change is the understanding that things can be different. This is my principal recommendation: we must recognize the possibility of a world without police.”
I’m not sure what that world would look like. But the fact that this sentiment has sizable voice and more listeners than ever before tells us the ripples started in Ferguson are splashing on shores far and wide.
There is this thing called the internet meme - a viral phenomenon that transmits behaviors from one culture to another. Television, print, internet, films - they all carry ideas far and wide. Police cultures from one country to another are no different.
Is it possible that police shootings of civilians is one of those memes in police culture?
In You In Blue we did not write about the number of civilians shot by police, but we did discover 48 police officers were shot and killed last year. That is three times lower than a few decades ago. It raises a question: Have the numbers of people killed by police also declined? Actually, it seems the opposite.
One report by the Bureau of Justice Administration suggests about 500 to 700 people are shot by police, often in encounters on the street during crimes in progress.The Guardian newspaper finds that by July of this year alone over 500 people have been fatally shot by police, suggesting the numbers are increasing.
Sadly, we have no idea if that is beyond what normally happens. With over 750,000 police officers in a country of over 350 million we have no idea whether that is beyond the “average”, if such an average even exists!
MIGRATION INTO CANADA?
I had a cursory look at Canadian police shootings for the past decade and made an interesting discovery. Unsurprisingly the Canadian rate is considerably less than the U.S. rate. With fewer handguns it stands to reason there will be fewer incidents of police confronting armed suspects.
What was surprising was the uptick in Canadian police-civilian shooting deaths over the past few years. Ten years ago it rarely rose above 5 per year for the whole country! (California, slightly larger than Canada’s population, has over 90 this year alone).
But five years ago the Canadian numbers started to increase - 7 in 2010 and 21 in 2014. By July this year that number was already 17, nowhere the U.S. rate but still alarming.
Are these increases just a blip on the statistical radar screen? Or are Canadian cops influenced by happenings with their U.S. counterparts?
Our final chapter in You In Blue is on The Warrior Agenda. To the Combat Cops in combat cop culture, “warrior ways” is an appealing meme. To the rest of us it is a nightmare. Is it moving north?