Experts give recommendations on how police departments can be more efficient - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Experts give recommendations on how police departments can be more efficient

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Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011 2:01 pm | Updated: 5:29 pm, Thu Feb 17, 2011.

In a report completed by two policing experts and released by an Arizona government watchdog group on Wednesday, recommendations were made on how police departments can operate more efficiently during times of budget cuts without regressing to high levels of crime during the 1970s and 80s.

William J. Bratton, retired police chief of the New York and Los Angeles police departments and George Kelling, professor emeritus in the school of criminal justice at Rutgers University, spoke before a crowd of 140 at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix about the importance for police departments to maintain pro-active approaches focused on crime prevention and "hot spot" crime areas as opposed to reactive approaches of responding to crimes after they happen.

The same program was also presented Thursday before a crowd of 150 in Scottsdale during an event hosted by Mayor Jim Lane.

Bratton's and Kelling's talk centered on the history of policing in the United States and recommended policing improvements in the report which included the "broken windows" community policing strategy adopted by Bratton over his 40 years in law enforcement. The broken windows strategy initially was a thesis co-authored by Kelling. It acknowledged the connection between disorder, fear, crime, and urban decay that has been playing out in America's large cities for decades and how to keep order in the streets and reduce crime with the help of community involvement, better crime tracking systems and with the help of private business improvement districts.

The 51-page report, "Keeping Americans Safe: Best Practices to Improve Community Policing and to Protect the Public," was written by Kelling and Catherine Coles, a lawyer and urban anthropologist. It was based on their book, "Fixing Broken Windows." The policy report was sponsored by the Goldwater Institute.

During the talk, Kelling also was quick to admit that every good idea that successfully developed good policing was done on a local level, and he and Bratton were aware that Arizona is facing a different set of issues to keep order on the streets: crimes from illegal immigration, increasing violence from Mexican drug cartels that are spilling north of the border and out-of-state gangs operating within the Grand Canyon state.

"Through crime prevention efforts and technology, police departments began to get it right in the 1990s," Kelling said. "When we moved into the post 9/11 (terrorist attacks) stage and into the information age, departments began to put cops in spots where crime will occur. Police Departments face challenges, but it is important that we don't fall back."

While commissioner of New York City's Police Department from 1994 to 1996, Bratton adopted many of the broken windows strategies, which he credited to reducing crimes by 39 percent and homicides by 50 percent. In 1990, when he was chief of the New York Transit police, violent subway crimes dropped by 75 percent.

Bratton added that accountability and transparency within departments is critical to the continued effectiveness of crime prevention efforts through compstats, an accountability system that records crime statistics, case clearance rates and reveals areas where crime is on the rise.

One of the drawbacks with police departments during times of budget cuts, Bratton said is that they have eliminated overtime and comp time, which he believes could hinder case clearance rates of violent crimes such as homicides or cause them to drop.

"When a homicide happens, you immediately have to put a lot of resources and hours into solving it," Bratton said. "Police departments have gained a lot of ground over the past years, and once they lose ground, it's hard to gain it back."

Other recommendations in the report for police departments included better regionalized efforts of various units, keeping a sufficient amount of officers in crime "hot spots" in an effort to reduce criminal activity, targeting repeat offenders and privatizing some processes that lead to solving crimes such as forensics, and to maintain the core responsibility of keeping officers on the streets.

"Safety and public safety should be government's number one concern," Kelling said. Turning your back on public safety is not a good idea. You need control of the streets."

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