Trust the Officers ...
... and trust the public


This appeared in the LA Daily News, on Sunday, January 20, 2002:

LAPD brass should trust officers, public
by Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman
email to:

Los Angeles Police Department top management is demonstrating that it doesn't trust citizens enough to give them a meaningful voice in policing policy.

Instead, it is commissioning studies -- one at a time -- on isolated topics such as use of force or encounters with the mentally ill.

One such study, announced in late December, will commence in March or April of this year. It will review "community-oriented-policing training models that take into account cultural diversity." The Request for Proposals (tender for bids) describing the project repeats that phrase several times, but neither defines nor explains its purpose enough to elicit a serious bid from consultants. If it were draft legislation, it would surely be void for vagueness.

That study -- whatever its aims -- could tie up the issue of community policing until October or November. In the meantime, the process of appointing (or reappointing) a police chief will be over.

Small wonder, then, that some deem it just another tactic on the part of the LAPD command to remove the issue from the scrutiny of Mayor James Hahn and the Police Commission responsible for the appointment of a chief. Los Angeles doesn't need more piecemeal studies, samples or local "trial models" of community policing programs. Instead, the city needs to launch a broad spectrum of police-citizen partnerships citywide.

Across the United States, communities of all sizes and ethnic diversities have shown that they can do the job. We too can handle community policing.

It is up to LAPD top management to start the ball rolling.

First, it must wholeheartedly embrace the police-citizen partnership philosophy. It must then roll out a number of citywide community policing programs, introducing them to community groups and government agencies. It must staff them with motivated, specially trained, rank-and-file officers in interagency outreach teams.

Then, Los Angeles neighborhoods will rise to the occasion and will participate just as hundreds of communities have done nationwide.

There is a vast and growing body of knowledge and practical experience on community policing, freely available to the LAPD. Police forces everywhere in the United States and Europe are proud to share their data and cumulative expertise with newcomers. LAPD officials should be utilizing it quickly. They only need to ask.

For starts, there is much to learn next door at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department practices community policing in its many forms, and the resulting know-how is considerable. Also, it operates one of the 20 federally funded Regional Community Policing Institutes. It has the added advantage of sharing the sheer sprawling size and ethnic diversity of Greater Los Angeles.

Some examples of the sheriff's progressive partnership efforts include:
Community Transition Unit: Located at Twin Towers Correctional Facility, this unit offers more than 40 rehabilitation and counseling programs to prepare inmates for their release and to fight recidivism.

Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives: One of the nation's more successful youth programs, VIDA creates strong and close bonds with young people to prevent gang entry and delinquency. It features community service, "youth links" counseling services for families, behavioral modification and career guidance.

Community mobilization: Local sheriff's stations offer popular Neighborhood Watch clubs, Community Academies, Civilian Volunteer Program, Volunteers on Patrol and many others.

Homeless Public Safety Center: Now in advanced planning, this will be a homeless access and dwelling center located in downtown Los Angeles, and represents a commitment to solving urban problems through community policing. Housing up to 200 homeless people and couples, the center will provide interagency outreach and close cooperation with medical, dental and mental health services, drug and alcohol rehab programs, job training and career guidance, and transitional housing.

The models the LAPD might emulate are widespread and well known.

Here are some examples of successful programs in other cities:

San Diego recently celebrated its eighth anniversary of community policing. Among its successful ventures is the permanent Use of Force Task Force made up of 71 community members and 66 police officers. The proactive Homeless Outreach Teams, another example of partnering, consist of two police officers, a county social worker, a psychiatric emergency response team clinician and a project manager.

Buffalo, N.Y., police introduced the "Fix the City" program that became a rallying cry for community-based initiatives in partnership with businesses and neighborhoods. Taking a cue from the "Distressed Neighborhoods" program of the US Department of Justice office for Community Oriented Policing Services, Buffalo police and citizens have reduced crime in the most-affected areas by 25 percent to 50 percent over a six-month period.

Chicago last year marked its seventh year of community policing with an interim report that showed increasing satisfaction with -- and participation in -- citizen partnership operations, especially in minority neighborhoods. Recorded crime declined most sharply in African-American communities. Robbery was down 47 percent, auto theft dropped by 33 percent, rape was reduced by 33 percent and burglary dropped by 31 percent.

Now, while crime is rising in Los Angeles, Chicago is maintaining crime rates that are dramatically lower than they were before the introduction of community policing.

In a large number of smaller cities, police forces made the necessary transition from a reactive hierarchy to a proactive partnership. In all cases, the impetus came from the top. The process requires the active and enthusiastic support of the chief and command staff.

These police forces have shown that it pays to trust the citizens to share information and decision-making powers. While gearing up for permanent, long-term community policing, they created opportunities for proactive police management.

LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks is curiously silent on the subject of community policing as applied to solving the urgent and devastating problems of low morale and growing vacancies.

A number of major studies, many of them commissioned by the Department of Justice, show beyond dispute that community policing creates high morale among the rank-and-file officers. It boosts recruitment and attracts top young talent to the force.

Sheriff Lee Baca credits community policing with helping him recruit 3,000 new deputies in three years, 25 percent of whom are women -- nearly double the national average. Chief Parks, or his successor, should study those figures seriously.

It is clearly important to encourage officer initiative and leadership, and to recognize the enormous potential of rank-and-file officers as a valuable source of information and wisdom to effect change. Officers can handle community policing, if top management will only trust them to do so.

Making the model work will require a cultural change within the LAPD, one that trusts both officers and citizens to "handle" community policing. Cities throughout the United States and Europe have done it, and Los Angeles can do it. Let Mayor Hahn and the Police Commission know how urgently we need community policing, and demand it citywide. We, the people, can handle it.


--- 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