Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Police reform dreams of a non-expert

Since the Baltimore City Council Public Safety Committee said it couldn't get the Mayor's crime prevention plan, the Council is split on a mandatory sentencing law for gun violations, the complete response to the the Justice Department's requirements is still unclear and a council member has come under fire for asserting pretty bad things about Baltimore police, chiming in with outside-the-box proposals which, for the most part, are likely not in the Mayor's or the Commissioner's plans should be permissible. Proposals that are not based on expertise or on data sets or detailed research but are simply an attempt of a new mindset derived from principles that are the opposite of what clearly isn't working now. Meant to ferment thought rather than to head for immediate implementation. Not comprehensive by any means: The suggestions don't include considerations of the justice system, the prison system, the gun industry or the US history of crime and police.
Dreams about police that is truly serving all its citizens
Baltimore's predicament is well known, but any suggestion of change needs to begin with a defined problem. Here a short-form:

Baltimore has the third largest police force per capita in the country and the fifth highest murder rate per capita (it may be worse now). The closure or clearance rate for murder has never exceeded 60% and is currently trending at 49%. (the national clearance rate is 64%, Baltimore County clears 82% of its murders). Baltimore's safety budget exceeds its education budget. Morale among the officers is bad, trust in the population absent, no matter whether one asks members of black, white, poor or affluent communities. Poor black communities feel unprotected and under siege at the same time. Lawlessness is rampant on many levels including among some members of the police itself including shaking down residents and overtime fraud. The details are included in the DOJ report. Commissioner Davis and many on his force have been trying hard to make a difference, yet, there seem to be too many systemic obstacles.
DOJ Report on Baltimore Police

One can safely conclude from the poor Baltimore results that crime fighting by making the police force larger, better armed, more aggressive or better equipped with data doesn't work. Aside from the cost, an arms race between the police and the bad guys simply ramps up aggression, nobody cannot arrest its way out of crime. What seems to be needed is de-escalation instead of escalation with the objective that police will be perceived to be there for citizens instead of against citizens.

The below suggestions are an attempt of translating those conclusions into specific actions that would express such a shift from occupation to service in which a better service would be provided with a smaller number of better qualified and better paid officers.  Some type of higher-ed degree should become mandatory for new hires.
Pugh Civilian Oversight Committee
  • The police will be controlled by the Mayor and Council and an elected board of civilians from all council districts in parity the Police Commissioner will report to both. (This is a step further than the Pugh appointed Civilian Oversight Task Force)
  • Citizen friendly service oriented police district offices in part modeled after the renovated Western District would become community  safe zones in all districts funded on public-private partnership 
  • Officers to be hired should not live further than 10 miles outside the City line and be barred from moonlighting jobs.
  •  A data crunching crime prevention and solution unit consisting of civilian experts that would collaborate closely with other City departments such as CitiStat, Housing and Health.
  • Citizens can call police in an app like the Uber app in which they can see where the officers are, who will come, how long it will take and how the officer was rated by civilians in the past. The problem that bad guys can see where police is, will solve itself if good and reliable response times are the objective. (There would still be 911 for those split-second emergencies, if 911 works right, that is).
    Practical lower power more efficient roomy vehicles
  • All patrol officers would be required to spend at least half their service hours walking, biking or talking with citizens. They wear the traditional police uniform at all times, no jump suits and baseball caps, and they can't watch their district by sitting in a police car looking at their phones
  • Patrol officers could not use private phones while on duty and use their service phones only for official business.
    High powered, inefficient, cramped and aggressively
    designed: current police fleet 
    On site police reports need to be created by voice commands on a smart phone and signed electronically by participants. Smart phones should be able to replace those clunky and expensive police car lap-tops  which most cruisers don't have yet anyway.
  • Impractical and inefficient high power Chevy Impala Squad cars would get replaced by practical and fuel efficient compact cars such as the Honda Element. This saves money and prevents those dangerous car chases that are illegal anyway. Highly visible light paint and reflective tape will take away the menacing look of those black police cruisers.
  • As far as patrol officers drive in a car, they would be dispatched in pairs and trained to be model citizens when it comes to following traffic laws, setting the blinker, obeying the speed limit, stopping on yellow and interact in a service oriented demeanor.
    From DOJ Report
  • Whatever riot gear and equipment for special tactical units is necessary would be limited to a specially trained unit that is called in on demand by the Commisoner or District Commander.
  • Police would staff rec centers and rec programs to ensure good contact and good role models for Baltimore's youth across all demographics.
Before anyone falls off the rocker because any of these proposals are unrealistic, not comprehensive, impractical, or already considered, use them as ferment not as a prescription.

Architects had to apply police rules for design for some time now (Crime Prevention Through Environmetal Design) it may be fair that an architect dreams about designing the police for a thought experiment in which the relation between citizen and police translates into civilian empowerment.  There are entire countries where police operates very similar to the model described above. In them there are many cities the size of Baltimore which exist in the real world with real diverse people and still have only a few handful of murders a year, if that.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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