Getting Serious About Community Policing

 

“[Officer] Thurmond was part of Rockford’s newest experiment in policing—a program designed to help cops put down roots in high-crime sections of the city. The police department had procured a house for him. He would be living there rent-free for a minimum of three years, with his only mission to serve the community—to be a good neighbor.”

When we get serious about 21st century policing in America we will start experimenting with the best ways to do this. (And a good place to start is to implement the recommendations of the 21st Century Task Force on Policing.)

As I recall, Rockford had considerable contact with my department in Madison over the years about the topic of neighborhood policing. Here’s what they developed and this should spur other departments to pursue the immensely rewarding path of continuous improvement and getting closer to those whom you serve. Ben Austin of “The New Republic” does a great job of capturing the Rockford story.

When police start focussing on improvement as a way of life, magic will happen and trust will rebuild. And, of course, to pursue improvement means talking with and deeply listening to citizens and employing current methods such as evidence-based and problem-oriented policing. 


 

How One American City Chose to Tackle Crime, Combat Racism, and Reckon with the Legacy of Police Brutality

By Ben Austin, “The New Republic”

June 21, 2018

Eric Thurmond and Patrice Turner are Resident Officer Community Keepers, or ROCK cops, in Rockford, Illinois, a small city near Chicago.

“On a spring morning last year, in the Keith Creek neighborhood of Rockford, Illinois, Eric Thurmond stopped his patrol car on a street shrouded by trees and veined with cracks. The homes on the block were modest and weathered, many of them low-end rentals that had been chopped up into multiple units. The surrounding streets were cratered with foreclosures and vacant properties. Thurmond, a rookie on the Rockford police force, had been shown the statistics documenting the neighborhood’s decline—burglaries, shootings, home invasions. It was not a desirable place to live. But he would be moving there in less than two weeks. He was part of Rockford’s newest experiment in policing—a program designed to help cops put down roots in high-crime sections of the city. The police department had procured a house for him. He would be living there rent-free for a minimum of three years, with his only mission to serve the community—to be a good neighbor.

Critics of reform programs like ROCK say that the problems with the police run deeper than individual cops. “We don’t just need friendly officers,” said Antar Baker, a youth program coordinator from Rockford’s west side. “We need laws in place that protect against abuses. We need rogue behavior prosecuted.”

“Thurmond got out of his cruiser to inspect his new home, a brick and wood-paneled bungalow with peeling paint above the brim of a beveled awning. As he stood on the front steps, he noticed a neighbor peeking at him from behind makeshift curtains. The neighbor—a scruffy-bearded white man in jeans and a T-shirt—came outside to meet him. He looked concerned. Thurmond is 25 years old, built squat and burly like a washing machine, with a laid-back manner and a round, cherubic face. Realizing how the arrival of a uniformed officer must look, he assured the man that there was nothing to worry about. No crime had been committed. He wasn’t responding to a call for service, just checking out the house prior to his move. He described the police residency program, extending a hand as he introduced himself.

Rockford Chief of Police Dan O’Shea started the ROCK program. “We have to change the old-school, cuff-and-stuff mentality,” he said. “It doesn’t work.”

“’You going to have cameras up?’ the man asked, his eyes scanning the front of Thurmond’s bungalow.

“’Yeah, if anything happens in the neighborhood, I’m going to be able to see what’s going on.’ To Thurmond, it sounded assuring. The man nodded and turned away.

 

Read the rest of this excellent article on community policing by Ben Austin in a tough city from “The New Republic” HERE.