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Wednesday 18 September 2019
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Letters to the Editor

A radical approach to crime

THE EDITOR: In many First World countries, key functionaries are appointed from the bosom of partisan politics, namely by elected officials. Let us look at the US. It seems that when these elected officials make their hand-picked appointments they want results as they promise their constituents a better and safer society.

The current TT Government has adopted the same proactive approach and has gone down the “order of merit” list to appoint the candidate it thought best suited for the job of crime-fighting and clearly articulated why others who scored higher would be professionally incapacitated based on empirical evidence.

The newly-minted Commissioner of Police has adopted some crime-fighting approaches that new research/analysis has proven to be effective in crime reduction.

“There are a number of proactive policing strategies that have impacts on crime and, for the most part, they don’t cause those negative outcomes in the community,” says David Weisburd, a criminologist at George Mason University in the US and the lead author of the analysis.

Weisburd and Jim Bueermann (a former police chief) worked with a panel of 15 other experts, including criminologists, lawyers, statisticians, and another former police chief. They analysed existing studies of several popular, proactive policing strategies. Their results are publicly available in a report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering.

The following four strategies should be attempted and CoP Gary Griffith has begun the process of implementing some:

Problem-oriented policing

Problem-oriented policing was one of the most promising strategies Weisburd and his team studied. There was evidence suggesting that the approach both reduces crime in the short term and improves community relations slightly. (There is little long-term data, which was true of everything the panel examined.)

To count as problem-oriented policing, a programme had to identify an issue in a community, sometimes with input from community members, and develop strategies to solve it. The issue might be specific, like juvenile crime in one park, or it might be broader, like “physical disorder.”

Many studies of problem-oriented policing programmes found they increased community members’ satisfaction with the police. Some also found they improved people’s perception of their quality of life, lowered their fear of crime, and bolstered their belief in the legitimacy of the police.

Hot-spots policing

Hot-spots policing takes advantage of research that shows that a large portion of a city’s crime will often occur on just a few streets. Hot-spots policing programmes invest in these streets more intensely – and studies show the strategy helps reduce crime there in the short term, without pushing off crime to surrounding areas. The researchers also found that hot--spots policing rarely created backlash from the community.

Stop-and-frisk and traffic stops

Stop-and-frisk and aggressive traffic stops have become some of the most controversial police tactics in the US, the former because of civil rights lawsuits and the latter because of police killings of unarmed black men pulled over for minor infractions.

Research shows that, when applied to specific areas, stop-and-frisk can reduce crime.

Community policing

American police departments deploy so-called “community policing” in a lot of different ways, from having a police representative attend community meetings to publishing newsletters to bike patrols.

The researchers found that, when they separated the “community engagement” strategies from other police tactics they studied – such as problem-oriented policing, which often solicits community input – community engagement alone didn’t reduce crime.

But big reviews of community policing did find it improved community members’ satisfaction with the police. Whether it improved people’s perceived disorder in their neighbourhoods, fear of crime, and belief in the police’s legitimacy was less clear.

It’s possible community policing does reduce crime, but researchers couldn’t tell because studies of it don’t tend to last longer than a year, Weisburd says. The theory behind community policing suggests it should take a while to work against crime because police need to build up trust among constituents first. But major crime-study funders, such as the Department of Justice, often give out grants that last only a year, Weisburd says

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence” (John Adams).

Congrats CoP Griffith; leave a trail for others to follow.

H STEW via e-mail

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