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Inside Criminal Justice

H. F. Guggenheim

Bratton: Police Are 'Essential Element in Helping a City Develop'

February 10, 2014 11:42:30 am

Photo by Graham Kates

Establishing trust between police and residents in communities with high crime rates is essential to improving local economies, said New York Police Commissioner William Bratton this morning.

“Police can be an essential element in helping a city develop and grow,” Bratton said at the 9th Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, at John Jay College in New York City.

“There is no better investment at the neighborhood level than alliance between dedicated cops and grassroots community developers.”

Bratton is among more than 30 top practitioners, academics and private-sector leaders joining journalists for two days of candid discussion on the lingering failures and inequities of the criminal justice system and the economic impact those failures have had –not just on those who are released from prison, but on their families and neighborhoods.

Bratton and Detroit police chief James Craig each emphasized how factors ranging from crime rates and officer temperament to 911 call response time and even police car maintenance can affect public perceptions of police departments.

In New York City, building that trust may revolve around how the NYPD handles reforms to its controversial “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic, the practice of stopping civilians, without probable cause, because there is reason to suspect a crime has or may soon occur.

The widespread use of “stop-and-frisk” during the last decade has led to an increasingly hostile relationship between the police department and many in the predominantly minority communities where it has most frequently been used.

Bratton acknowledged that residents in high crime communities will be closely watching to see whether he keeps a promise to rein in the tactic.

“It’s essential that we get this resolved quickly, so there are very distinct lanes in the road and guardrails that define how we operate,” Bratton said.

Detroit Chief James Craig, who followed Bratton's remarks at a panel exploring police-community collaboration with Dana Redd, Mayor of Camden, NJ, said that when a new commissioner is appointed, quick changes can significantly change the way police and residents regard each other.

When Craig  was appointed in 2013, Detroit was suffering from one of the nation's highest homicide rates.  Prior to his arrival, the city’s response time to 911 calls was about 50 minutes and many of the city’s squad cars were dilapidated.

“You had a community that didn’t have any confidence in its police department, that in many cases wouldn’t even bother to call the police,” Craig said.

As chief he has focused on so-called “Priority One” police calls, noting that the department’s 911 response time has been reduced to between seven and eight minutes.

An integral part of working towards that reduction was improving work conditions for officers, Craig said.

For years, Detroit officer morale has been notoriously low, as patrolmen have worked 12 hours shifts (compared to superiors who work eight hour shifts), for lower pay than officers in most major cities.

Craig said creating the motivation for officers to respond quickly and spend time in communities started with basic changes like reducing work hours and replacing worn out squad cars.

Detroit’s homicide rate dropped by 14 percent in 2013 and Craig said the decrease was directly related to these changes.

“This wasn’t an accident,” he said. “But we can do better.”

Graham Kates is deputy managing editor of The Crime Report. His reports from the conference will continue today. He welcomes comments from readers.

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