John Buntin writes in last week’s New York Times Magazine how the Los Angeles Police Department used a good dose of community-oriented policing to get a handle on their gang problem in his article, “What Does It Take to Stop Crips and Bloods From Killing Each Other?”
It turns out that a “soft approach” (community policing) applied to a hard, murderous, almost intractable, lengthy city problem works. The community strategy centered around Cynthia Mendenwall, a 51-year-old mother of four who had lost two sons to gang warfare in Watts, a life-style she was once very familiar with as a high-ranking member of the PJ Crips in the 1980s.
Today, Mendenwall is a member of the Community Safety Partnership, which is made up of the Watts Gang Task Force and members of the Los Angeles Police Department. By building trust and working together, a huge difference has been achieved and it was accomplished by changing the tactics and strategies of the police department and enlisting members of the community in solving this problem..
In the past, the way the L.A.P.D. conducted itself in South Los Angeles was essentially “anti-insurgency” A strategy marked by brutality, suppression and force — the only things the L.A.P.D. thought people in South L.A. understood. They were wrong.
Over the past two years, under a new way, violent crime in L.A. gangland has fallen by more than 60 percent. Drive-by shootings, once a mainstay of gang life and the nightly news, have almost disappeared. One of the primary reasons it happened was because of community partnership and the leadership of L.A.P.D.Chief Charlie Beck.
Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer worked with Beck in developing a plan to train, certify and deploy gang-intervention workers to the city’s hot spots. He said, “Beck is not the ‘Crash’ officer I met 20 years ago. He transformed himself; for very strategic but also personal reasons he transformed himself.” Among the personal reasons is that two of his three children are in the L.A.P.D. and work South L.A. and the hard-core tactics of the C.R.A.S.H. unit (Community Response Against Street Hoodlums) were not working but provoking more mayhem in the community.
Today’s strategies involve working with schools in neighborhoods with the highest gang presence, systemically identifying the most at-risk children for extra services, hiring gang-intervention workers, and providing summer activities through its Summer Night Lights programs, which keeps parks and recreation centers open later in high-crime neighborhoods.
In contrast is, of course, is the stop-and-frisk approach in New York. Simply stated, it focuses on deterrence over fairness. The purpose behind stop-and-frisk is to deter youths in high-crime neighborhoods from carrying guns by increasing the likelihood that police will arrest them. The New York approach may be effective theoretically but it comes with a high cost to the community because police must make large numbers of stops in order to make it work. This causes those subjected to these stops to view the sweeping tactics of the police as unfair. The cost is the loss of police legitimacy in the community.
Criminologist David M. Kennedy puts it succinctly, “There is a direct link between the feeling that police are illegitimate and high levels of violence… When you get into the communities that are the most distressed, the feeling that the police are not legitimate goes up and violence goes up.”
On the other hand, if police can encourage high-crime neighborhoods to comply with the law by making some fairly simple changes to their own behavior: by explaining police actions, by listening to people’s grievances and by demonstrating respect. The effect of this community-oriented strategy can be far more lasting and effective than what has come to be called “shock and awe” policing..
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