I have been a police officer for over forty years. I have been an executive in five separate agencies (Washington DC Metropolitan Police, Washington DC Housing Police; Greensboro, NC; Louisville, KY; and Denver, CO). As a result, I have a good understanding of what police work entails and what the police should do. And with that, I can most assuredly say that crime prevention is the primary duty of the police.
But what does that mean? Why does it matter? And how do people on the outside know that their police are focused on preventing crime and what should police departments do in order to accomplish this?
Crime Prevention – vs Crime Reaction
All police departments react to crime. When a citizen calls 911 because their car was stolen, police officers respond. They interact with the victim, they usually take a report, and occasionally they catch the thief and complete an investigation so that the perpetrator may be prosecuted. That is an essential function and it will not change. But isn’t every response to crime a bit of a failure? Even if the suspect is caught? This is what reaction to crime looks like.
Because to be successful, to be a crime prevention agency, the police should have prevented the crime from ever occurring.
How Can the Police Prevent Crime?
There is no question that one of the greatest resources in preventing crime is a patrol officer, or “beat cop”. This highly trained professional who works in a particular neighborhood is accountable for what happens there. A great patrol officer gets to know the people who live or work in an area. They develop relationship and trust. They have a personal commitment and stake in the safety of the people and property there. They are a part of the community they serve. I want to hear community members calling to officers by name, because they know them and are comfortable with them. He or she is “their” officer.
Once this relationship takes hold, the people (the true eyes and ears of the police) will work with the officer to combat issues affecting their community. They will take an active role in watching out for and reporting crime. And this dynamic is so powerful, that criminals typically choose to conduct their business elsewhere.
What Do Crime Prevention Police Models Look Like?
First and foremost, there is a clear commitment by police administration to those officers who are assigned to patrol – those who are working in the community. In my view, the goal should be between 60-70% of a department’s resources in a patrol function.
We have worked hard to create this dynamic in Denver. We did it by reducing the number of special units, looking for opportunities to replace jobs being done by sworn police that could be accomplished by high caliber civilian employees, and by decentralizing some investigative functions. As we hire more officers, you will see an even greater percentage in patrol – and the result will be a reduction in crime.
Crime Prevention in Denver
We understand that in the long term, prevention not only requires great officers, working in our neighborhoods, but also connections with the citizens in the neighborhoods where they are assigned. If we value those relationships and treat individuals with dignity and respect, regardless of their station in life – we will prevent crime and see crime rates fall as a result. That is why our mission statement has been changed:
To operate a police agency with a focus on preventing crime in a respectful manner, demonstrating that everyone matters.
It is my goal to redesign this police department to be in the BEST position to prevent crime. As we move forward that will remain our focus.