Monday, November 19, 2007

Po-lease

I was away from Mr. Computah all day today. I needed to snooze and could only pound out my Green Wave post before heading out to work... What I wanted to discuss with my blogleagues was Sunday's T-P article about the fuzz, the NOPD.

Nah, let's not get into the fracas over whether or not Warren Riley should have released the findings of the consultant group brought in to streamline the force...

Although, one line I like from the T-P article goes... a little something..... ah like this:

But the final product gave no clue as to the department's current state: NOPD brass and consultants had edited out a slew of findings by the consultants and the department's own officers, who pointed out systemic weaknesses. Rather, the document reads like a list of sound practices for starting a department from scratch: posing solutions to problems never identified.

But, nah. Let's not go there.

First, I would like to say that the mere fact that Warren Riley brought these people in and instructed his subordinates to speak freely and honestly about the problems within the department is pretty cool. The article makes it seem like this report was actually quite comprehensive. Weird.

Second, let's talk about the meat and bones. (Since the T-P did go through all of that trouble of getting the unedited documents [cue gravel-voice announcer] that the NOPD didn't want you to see.)

I mean: Dayamn!

Let me pour you a tall glass...
I'll be adding the emphasis, thanks:

The documents detail a department debilitated by low morale, weak command-and-control and a lack of money, staff and equipment. The consultants found that overtaxed officers struggle under pressure to accomplish more with less staff, time and money. In addition, the report repeatedly highlights a disconnect between Riley and his command staff.

In turn, the disconnect trickles down to the city's foot soldiers, who often don't clearly understand or support some of the policing tactics touted publicly by their chief, such as "zero tolerance" arrest policies...

Say when...

"People were concerned that nothing would happen as a result of this report," said a high-ranking officer, who requested anonymity because the officer is not allowed to speak to the news media according to department protocol. "We've been studied over and over again, but nothing ever happens. We want change, we just don't think things will happen."

Should I keep going.....?

Officers wrote, "Police technicians in Records are minimum wage employees and are leaving for better-paying jobs and working conditions in the fast-food industry..."

... In the rush to bolster the ranks, one group of officers wrote, the department has pinned badges on less-than-stellar candidates.

"The Department is devoting time and resources to recruits who are grossly inadequate in sentence structure, grammar and spelling," the officers wrote....

Um, we're about to spill here...

Trailers double as offices. The crime lab lacks key equipment and certification. Evidence storage is in peril, crowded among trailers. The records division, whose employees share desks, splits minuscule office space with the city's taxicab personnel and some city computer programmers...

Air-conditioning systems in several of the more modern police stations work only sporadically. Consultants found that district detectives are buying their own investigative equipment, such as tape recorders and VCR/DVD tools. Officers rely on the goodwill of neighboring parish sheriff's offices, which assist in drug testing and the creation of photo identification lineup cards.

...And we've over-topped! Lemme go get a mop. I'll just leave you the whole bottle, I guess.

This story was truly upsetting to read. The police department is in terrible condition. I promise there is so much more in the article itself. I don't really know what to say about things like the recruitment crisis, the desk-sharing, or the inadequate equipment. I mean obviously we need to spend money on more facilities and tools. We need to recruit more officers and we need to recruit more support staff. We need those people to be highly qualified. There are obviously some major problems with Warren Riley's management of NOPD budget, bureaucracy, and communications.

Why don't people want to work for the NOPD? Why are officers having to bust it, working 12 hour shifts and 60 hour weeks?

Well let's go back to the article:

[wringing mop into mouth]

Yet, according to the findings, officers have low confidence in the "zero tolerance" tactics instituted by NOPD higher-ups, which emphasize making low-level arrests.

"Zero tolerance practices leads to multiple arrests, causing citizens to further distrust the police," officers wrote.

They recommended a focus on quality of arrests over quantity.

That issue become a point of contention recently when the Metropolitan Crime Commission released a study showing that half of the arrests the NOPD made in the first six months of the year involved traffic and municipal offenses.

The private watchdog group recommended police use more discretion, issuing citations for municipal or traffic offenses rather than arresting and jailing people.

Riley disputed the criticism, saying officers use discretion on minor offenses but often arrest people on minor charges if they have extensive criminal histories. Halting the arrests of certain people "will end up ultimately in chaos in certain parts of New Orleans," he said, adding that minor crimes sometimes blossom into larger ones.

Beyond the low confidence in policing tactics, some officers worried about their safety. "Several officers reported an element of fear when walking beats after dark," the consultants' report states...

...In the fight to quell crime, police feel they aren't getting much help. With a broken social service system failing to support the city's most dysfunctional families, police believe they are left to bear the brunt of the ills of urban poverty.

Meanwhile, at least locally, citizens show "insufficient interest" in assisting the police in investigations, the consultants reported.

I mean I guess it's possible to crush that up into a powder... I don't know if I'd recommend it.

The bureaucratic foibles are one thing, the ideological rift is another.

There is something seriously wrong with the relationship between the police and civilians in many cities in America. For so long police departments have behaved as if they are above the citizenry and not of the citizenry. In many communities, they represent authoritarian enemies instead of neighbors. The "stop snitching" ethic being instilled in youth fermented as an effect of this deteriorated relationship. Now it reinforces it.

The zero-tolerance policy that demands quick arrests for minor offenses is an old-school "knock some heads" tactic. It's "getting tough" on crime, as I might say. But what does it look like in the neighborhoods truly impacted by the strategy?

Well, it might look like a bunch of people coming in from outside your neighborhood and arresting your neighbors for loitering and/or smoking weed. It might look like a bunch of guys in uniforms with guns swarming, frisking, and hand-cuffing.

Many believe that this intimidation strategy has lowered crime rates. Maybe there's some truth to that. People can get real scared of the police. But what does it mean in the long-term?

Well here in New Orleans, where there aren't enough police to really intimidate everybody with a "zero tolerance" strategy, it means that the angry (desperate, frustrated, apathetic) citizens themselves are the ones intimidating the police.

"Several officers reported an element of fear when walking beats after dark"

The report that Warren Riley commissioned in July suggests a new approach called "community policing." I like this strategy because it has the word "community" in it.

What is community policing?

If you go ahead and click that community policing link, you'll see this answer, from the US Department of Justice:

Community policing focuses on crime and social disorder through the delivery of police services that includes aspects of traditional law enforcement, as well as prevention, problem-solving, community engagement, and partnerships. The community policing model balances reactive responses to calls for service with proactive problem-solving centered on the causes of crime and disorder. Community policing requires police and citizens to join together as partners in the course of both identifying and effectively addressing these issues.

I know that the answer there doesn't give specific proposals, so I will.
Right off the top of my head:

Officers should be assigned to a specific and consistent geographic area. Police should walk around their neighborhoods on foot and interact with human beings: meet them AND greet them. They should go to public schools and meet the kiddies and their parents. They should go to neighborhood association meetings and make contacts with local leaders. There should be tax incentives in place to encourage officers to buy homes within their districts. They should actually be a part of the community itself.

The police should not simply be the most visible representation of a criminal justice system that literally profits from perpetuating criminality and is the most glaring example of structural racism in America today.

Maybe, if the NOPD had been operating under a community-oriented model, they might earn enough neighborhood trust to get somebody, anybody to come forward and testify against those that are committing murders. Maybe the prosecutor's office would have put away more than just a couple of murderers over the last two years. (It really has just been like 10 or 20 convictions out of like 350 murders)

When Warran Riley says that he can't scrap the zero tolerance approach because "it will end up ultimately in chaos in certain parts of New Orleans," I call bullshit.

What do you call the current state of criminal justice in this city, Mr. Riley?

The report seems to indicate that officers would prefer to do community policing rather than knocking heads. I most definitely would like to know my neighborhood policepeople by name rather than simply by the sound of their sirens.

Why is newly elected Judge Laurie White talking so much about expungement courts?

I have a suspicion that there are people in charge that don't want to scrap zero tolerance because they think it'll keep crime stories off the front pages during convention/Mardi Gras season. I don't think they actually live in a neighborhood here. I don't think they have any kind of forward-thinking, progressive vision for what needs to be done to improve the lives of the residents of New Orleans... They might live in Dallas actually.

How can we ensure that our 2008 budget reflects our support for community policing?

Or we could just stay quiet and admire our shiny new tanks and machine guns...

Man, there's a lot more to say... let me just repeat this question:

How can we ensure that our 2008 budget reflects our support for community policing?

3 comments:

Southern Leftist said...

Fantastic blog post.

charlotte said...

I think cops actually living in the community they police is a great idea. One problem. How many of them make enough money to afford a decent house in Orleans parish?

I live in Algiers (part of Orleans parish) in a neighborhood that has alot of cops because we have nice homes that are affordable to middle income families.

Great post.....you will be famous!! Just remember my editing services are available. :)

E said...

There are an awful lot of homes for sale in most neighborhoods in this city, particularly those that have been most adversely affected by the breakdown in the community-police relationship. Tax incentives and maybe grants could be used to encourage home ownership... Or the same tactics could be used to help cops renovate/remodel dilapidated homes.