Restorative Community Policing

Rochester has 513 police officers and sergeants in the patrol section of the police department.  At any time, this means that there are roughly 120 officers on patrol.  Police can reduce crime through presence or fear of presence.  This means that the officers have to regularly patrol areas.  If half of the patrol officers on duty at a given time were divided into two groups, neighborhood officers and road patrols, then there can be 60 officers in neighborhoods.  These neighborhood officers would be responsible for  roughly a half square mile area of the city each. 

The neighborhood officers would be encouraged to get out of their car and interact with the public, know the neighborhood, write tickets, and develop connections.  The road patrols would respond to calls for service and assist neighborhood officers when arrests are needed.  This division would allow officers to maximize their presence and provide better coverage to neighborhoods.  As the downtown area is smaller than the rest of the areas, fewer officers would be needed and this would allow for a reserve of officers for special assignments, assistance with problem areas, and coverage of vacancies.

An important part of embedding police into neighborhoods is shifting to proactive policing techniques such as community policing.  This model of police activity is predicated on the belief that achieving safety goals requires the Police to develop a new relationship with citizens. Citizens would have the power to set local police priorities and therefore be involved in efforts to improve the overall quality of life in their community. Community Policing (.pdf) shifts the focus of police work from handling random crime calls to addressing community concerns.  Police would still answer 911 calls and make arrests, but they also act as catalysts, involving people in efforts to police themselves.   This is actually a recommended policing strategy of the US department of Justice and has been proven to be effective.

This is just one step though, as in order to prevent crime we need a different tool and one of the most powerful is Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a philosophy that believes in the power and influence of individual communities to work together toward improving the lives of everyone living in that community. In practice, RJ is collaboration between the perpetrator, the perpetrator's family, local neighbors, the DA, the police, and local government. The mechanism is a community meeting in lieu of a trial where the victim is part of the process and their needs are taken into account. One of the assumptions here is that the accused is taking responsibility for their crime without a legal defense and will work to make restitution for their crime.

This practice has been used in several cities throughout the world with amazing results.  It has reduced crime, cured chronic problems like youth violence, and saved money.  With a crime rate higher than NYC and rising rates for many violent crimes it is time to realize that we need a different approach.  In NYC, “stop and frisk” has neither reduced crime nor made an impact on guns in the streets.  In Rochester, Operation Cool Down has failed in the same way and has not made our neighborhoods safer.  It is time we implement more effective, humane approaches which have yielded results in places like Santa Barbra, CA and Bethlehem, PA.

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