Note to LAPD:
Collaborate, don't dictate


This appeared in the LA Daily News, on Sunday, December 9, 2001:

Note to LAPD: Collaborate, don't dictate
by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to:

While real community policing is flourishing both nationally and internationally, in Los Angeles it is faltering.

Until mid-1997, Los Angeles was fast becoming an internationally recognized leader in community policing. The successful police community partnerships of France and Germany were modeled after the senior lead officers and other programs of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Then, newly appointed Chief Bernard C. Parks pulled the plug on community policing and replaced it with beefed-up patrols and an invisible barrier of aloofness between officers and the neighborhoods -- "Institutional policing," in his words.

Since that time, Los Angeles has fallen behind major cities throughout the United States and Europe. While innovative and successful new partnership programs are appearing almost daily in cities and counties across the country and abroad, Los Angeles languishes in stubborn resistance. We need to catch up.

Several years ago, our firm and its associates launched a continuing study of community policing and how it is applied throughout Europe and the U.S. We saw how it was developed and implemented at the LAPD, and studied its applications at other police agencies at home and abroad. We have seen what works.

In our surveys, we have found community policing to be a sound, practical philosophy. The US Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Service, defines it as "... policing designed to reduce crime and disorder in communities by fostering trust, respect, and collaboration between police officers and citizens."

Police agencies interpret this definition differently to suit the needs of their particular communities. Varied as they are, central to all of the programs is the police-community partnership, with a shared goal of improving safety.

Community policing succeeds best where it has the full and constant support of top police management. For example, in Palermo, Italy -- population roughly 700,000 -- gang-related homicides dropped from over 200 per year in the mid-1990s to 11 in 1999 and nine in 2000. This drop in crime came only after the introduction of real community policing aimed at the socioeconomic roots of gang violence.

Zurich, Switzerland, introduced police/social service/troubleshooter outreach teams in May 2000. At present, drug addiction and homelessness in downtown areas has been reduced by more than 58 percent. All major crime categories are continuing a steady downward trend.

In the United States as in Europe, community policing boasts a proven track record of promoting social justice. Where it flourishes, it significantly reduces complaints of police abuse or brutality. In fact, community policing wins highest marks -- 84 percent approval in Chicago -- in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn advocates community policing as the way to tear down social and language barriers and to create secure neighborhoods citywide.

The key to success, as we found in our 12-nation study, is engaging the community as an equal partner, not as a passive recipient of policing. It begins with a policy of coordination, training and planning between the police and other agencies. It requires a managerial culture of openness and active encouragement of rank-and-file police leadership and initiative. Without these elements, we have found, community policing will not have the tools it needs to succeed.

In Los Angeles today, examples of community policing are few and isolated from the mainstream of LAPD structure. Even these existing programs are threatened:

The Senior Lead Officer program was recently reinstated over the strenuous efforts of LAPD management to block it during a four-year debacle. Even now, SLO reactivation is falling behind schedule and deployment is showing signs of faltering.

The CLEAR (Community Law Enforcement And Recovery) team, probably the only extant interagency community policing program in Los Angeles, is being threatened with extinction as funding sources disappear. CLEAR has a proven success rate in combating gang violence by mobilizing social resources in an outreach partnership with police. We not only need to save CLEAR, we should expand it citywide.

In Boyle Heights, resident activism, diligent research and a year of inspired planning recently produced a user-friendly program of community policing. It will feature bilingual, two-officer teams working with community groups to reduce gang involvement and lower crime rates. It is embarrassing that the LAPD is the passive partner in this project, entering the picture only after the neighborhood organized it.

At present, Los Angeles communities are often seen as merely a resource to help the police do their jobs as tradition dictates. But to join the ranks of the progressive and successful cities, LAPD management must change its policy from emergency response alone to a more proactive, collaborative effort.

This will result in increased trust in, and respect for, the police. Coupled with neighborhood contribution -- an extremely important component to community policing -- the reward is success in the form of lower crime rates and safer neighborhoods, fewer homeless and mentally ill on the streets, and fewer young people entering gangs.

The old model of policing features a semi-militaristic and hierarchic structure, rigid codes of discipline, oppressive directives and arbitrary lines of accountability. Recent studies commissioned by the US Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services show that community policing does not thrive under those too-rigid conditions.

Structure and discipline are essential to maintaining an organized police force. When taken to extremes, however, these factors destroy initiatives toward power sharing, joint problem-solving and mutual responsibility -- all characteristics necessary for successful community policing. In police labor relations, the old model leads to adversarial grievances and continuing tensions.

The problem with community policing in Los Angeles is that the police management does not possess the characteristics necessary for the reinstitution of community policing.

To change this, we need a call from residents to bring it back, a clear citywide mandate for its expansion, and a firm commitment from LAPD management for its permanent implementation.

Join us in the call to bring community policing back to Los Angeles, full strength.

Properly implemented, community policing benefits all residents. It lowers crime rates and builds confidence throughout the city. It empowers neighborhoods, especially minority and disadvantaged neighborhoods, to unite and to innovate.

The role of community policing is more critical than ever in the nation's fight against terrorism. Its proven track record can assist by mobilizing neighborhoods' cooperation in providing human intelligence and information resources.

Los Angeles is more than four years behind in rolling out new and successful community policing programs. Let's catch up with police forces everywhere that practice real community partnerships. It's hard work, but it's also the road Los Angeles needs to travel.


--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe. They are consultants and authors on international policing, social policy and human rights.

For additional information or a complete list of references, contact:

Dr. Arthur Jones