Community oriented public safety: the Long Beach experience.
The city of Long Beach, California, serves as an example. But, in spite of the obstacles, its police department, in a quest to better customer service, reduce crime, and improve quality of life, has been successfully integrating the COPS philosophy at all levels of the organization. COPS provides a way for the Long Beach Police Department to maximize resources through partnerships with community residents and other stakeholders to provide long-term problem solving, sustain neighborhoods, and reduce crime.
A recent survey of Long Beach residents identified what they thought about their police department, how safe they felt in their communities, and what issues they considered most important. The top six problems, in rank order, were 1) unkempt neighborhoods, 2) drugs, 3) graffiti, 4) gangs, 5) shootings, and 6) prostitution. (2) This ranking illustrates the importance of quality-of-life issues among communities. Further, it delineates the two concepts of being and feeling safe. Consistent with the broken windows theory, (3) citizens reported that an unkempt neighborhood with graffiti, trash strewn throughout the streets, and residents who do not take pride in their homes results in a feeling that illicit activity is afoot. Officers who can galvanize those citizens into action and help them form a community where they police their own quality-of-life issues have a measurable effect on the neighborhood and its crime rate.
Even though for years the Long Beach Police Department has focused efforts on community policing, these usually involved only a team of officers per patrol division who networked with neighborhood stakeholders and formed important relationships with citizens. As the agency continues to embrace the COPS philosophy, a main focus is institutionalizing its practices at all levels of the organization, as well as the city of Long Beach and the city prosecutor's office. By doing so, the department will reap the most benefits possible from line-level ownership of issues and collaborative problem solving among officers, civilian employees, other city departments, the city prosecutor's office, citizens, and businesses. The agency is accomplishing its move toward departmentwide COPS practices through structural changes, training courses with all employees, and a redirection of command staff focus to support efforts at the line level.
While any organization finds structural changes painful, the Long Beach Police Department has benefited from its recent modifications. For instance, in recognizing the importance of attacking specific community problems in a multiprong approach, the city transferred its nuisance abatement officer from a position in city hall to one within the patrol bureau of the police department. Bringing this position into the agency's chain of command affords a quicker response to issues and a better ability to share information with street officers. Another move has involved decentralizing crime analysts from a main office downtown. Now, they work directly out of police divisions, helping officers review crime trends in their assigned areas and examine best practices for impacting those areas.
In addition, the Long Beach code enforcement and city prosecutor's offices have undergone organizational restructuring designed to emulate the four geographic police patrol divisions. A team of code enforcement personnel, including code enforcement inspectors and health inspectors, is assigned to each respective patrol division. The city prosecutor's office also has dedicated a deputy city prosecutor to each division. Now, problems, such as absentee landlords, vandalism, and drug sales, are addressed through a team approach.
To address one of the main concerns for Long Beach citizens--graffiti--the department's Gang Enforcement Section has dedicated two detectives to investigate these crimes. And, the agency has recently purchased computer software to track graffiti throughout the city. This software will provide a better, more efficient way to establish a comprehensive criminal case against vandals engaged in this activity. Further, it will provide the city prosecutor, or district attorney in more serious cases, with the evidence necessary to secure a conviction in these incidents of vandalism.
The training courses, conducted with all department personnel, not only have involved an explanation of the COPS philosophy but have devoted much time to working with specific tools for problem solving (e.g., crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED)) and introducing resources available to officers through other city departments and community groups (e.g., agencies with which to coordinate in addressing various quality-of-life issues). Line-level decision making is encouraged and officers are empowered to identify not only problems in their assigned areas but solutions as well.
During training, officers meet and interact with certain key stakeholders in their areas. In this way, communication is fostered and supported between police and the community. Also, officers go out into the field to see problem locations firsthand and work together to find and implement possible resolutions.
Command Staff Focus
The department continues to refocus its command staff to be more in alignment with COPS philosophies. Commanders are encouraged to facilitate and support interdepartmental communication and cooperation. They, too, work with their assigned crime analyst to understand crime trends and hot-spot areas. And, they meet with citizens to establish an open rapport. What administrators pay attention to, so will the troops. At the senior executive level, deputy chiefs will structure questions at crime statistics meetings so those answering must display knowledge of rising issues and the long-term problem-solving techniques needed to deal with them.
The Long Beach Police Department has experienced success while using the COPS philosophy. One good example entails an issue with the Halbrite Bridge, which offers a pedestrian connection between Long Beach and a bordering city. Technically, it is governed by three jurisdictions and involves two different school districts, as children from Long Beach cross the bridge to attend classes in another district. Unfortunately, criminals also used it as a thoroughfare between the bordering city and Long Beach. Auto burglaries, graffiti, and noise disturbances represented problems associated with this bridge. Residents of Long Beach wanted it removed.
Patrol officers recognized this problem and took personal ownership of it. They coordinated with bordering municipalities, school districts, and community members. Destruction of the bridge proved a costly solution. Then, officers implemented the CPTED concept. Metal gates were constructed at both ends to block access during certain times of the day and all hours of the night to prevent pedestrian traffic. Residents and school staff agreed to be responsible for the opening and closing of the bridge gates. The communities and schools at both ends are pleased with the results--the crimes and disturbances have substantially decreased.
Law enforcement agencies continue to strive toward excellence in their attempt to provide safe, orderly environments for the citizens they serve. In doing so, departments have begun to recognize the importance of involving community stakeholders in this process.
The community oriented public safety concept has given the Long Beach Police Department a means to provide improved service to its 500,000 residents. The diverse and multifaceted customer base it serves needs to be part of the process that brings this agency's policing into the 21st century. Creating partnerships between police, other city departments, and citizens is the beginning of the move toward community oriented governance and shared ownership of issues by all those involved in the process. The result can only be a better, safer community in which to live, work, and play.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of Sergeant Paul Gallo, Long Beach, California, Police Department, in the preparation of this article.
(1) For additional information, see David Allender, "Community Policing: Exploring the Philosophy," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2004, 18-22.
(2) Brenda Vogel, Allan Abrahamse, and Gregory Robinson, "Long Beach Voices" (January 2004).
(3) For additional information, see James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, "The Police and Neighborhood Safety: Broken Windows," Atlantic Monthly 249 (March 1982): 29-38.
By Cynthia Renaud, M.A., and Anthony Batts, Ph.D.
Lieutenant Renaud is the director of the Long Beach, California, Police Academy.
Dr. Batts is chief of the Long Beach, California, Police Department.
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|Title Annotation:||Police Practice|
|Publication:||The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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