Security and Crime News
J. R. Roberts and the Savannah Public Safety Task Force Publish The Results of Their Year Long Study on the State of the Police Department.
May 15, 2005
*Numbers for Savannah are pre-merger.
The 12 Committee members were drawn from a cross-section of the community. No one in the Committee is a member of SCMPD or a law enforcement professional. We bring an outsiders view of the police, formed by our observations, study and judgment.
The Committees Approach to the Task
To better understand what we observed, members reviewed and discussed numerous writings on policing. Much of the writing reviewed referred to police work done in New York City. This was for two reasons: First, Savannah uses the CompStat crime statistics evaluation system pioneered by NYCs Police Department. Secondly, New York City has a well-researched and well-documented history of dramatically reducing crime from 1990 to the present. The Committee also spent two days with the Charleston Police Department. Charleston was chosen because of its proximity and similarity to Savannah in terms of culture, demographics and tourist industry.
Review of Data
The Challenge: Can the police make a real difference?
There is a school of thought that says that the police can have little impact on crime; that crime is the result of large sociological forces that are beyond the scope of a single agency like the police.
Many in policing believe this as well:
A series of police commissioners in New York City, starting with William Bratton, have challenged this line of thought with dramatic results. When Bratton became Commissioner in 1993, The NYPD had been content to focus on reacting to crime while accepting no responsibility for reducing, let alone preventing it (Bratton, quoted in Knobler, Turnaround, p. xi).
Bratton, first as Chief of Transit Police in 1990, and then as Police Commissioner, and the commissioners that have followed him, refused to accept this notion. They believe that with the right tactics and strategies, the police can achieve dramatic results. The numbers support them. NYC has consistently reduced crime for 14 years. (See Table 2.)
A fundamental assumption of this report is that the SCMPD can have a significant impact on crime. We do not accept the its societys fault explanation for crime in Savannah and Chatham County.
Organization and manpower:
On paper SCMPD is a decentralized police department, organized around a headquarters with six semiautonomous precinct stations. In addition, there are special divisions, such as Criminal Investigations, Counter Narcotics Team (CNT), Special Operations, and Savannah Impact (SIP). Under these divisions are specialized units such as Tactical Response and Prevention (TRAP), a gang unit, Traffic, a blight unit, Career Offender Tracking Unit (COTU) and the Narcotics Eradication Team (NET), just to name a few. (See the list on the 2005 City budget, page 139.) Some of the special units are based at headquarters; others have their own separate offices.
Headquarters holds weekly meetings, called CompStat meetings, where the Chief, the six heads of the precincts, and the heads of special units such as Homicide and Counter Narcotics all meet to go over the past weeks crime statistics. The CompStat process provides headquarters with a good view of what is happening in the county and how crime is trending.
Organization-wide, the Committee detected little urgency to reduce crime. We believe this is due in part to the expectations the city has placed on the SCMPD. Specifically, Savannah has set modest crime reduction goals of 5% for all crime categories for 2005. (See the 2005 City of Savannah budget, pages 143147.)
The precincts are where patrol officers are based. Each precinct is further divided into beats, each in theory with its own patrol officer. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 5: SCMPD Precincts
Every turnout for a patrol shift attended by Committee members was short staffed, typically by a quarter to a third of the officers authorized. (Members attended turnouts in the Downtown, Central, West Chatham and Southside precincts.) Usually some of the officers going out on patrol were on overtime. Overtime duty translates to a patrol officer only being available for half of the shift, or four hours, leaving the second half of the shift further short staffed. This is the case because officers are limited to 12 hours of work a day, not including court time.
As an example; for the week of March 14th and April 13th patrol was short 56 and 63 officers
* Source: SCMPD. The Committee requested historical data but was informed that historical data is not kept.
The staffing of the patrol divisions appears symptomatic of patrols place in the department. Despite patrol being the largest division, it is not viewed as a place of prestige or as a good position for advancement.
Due to SCMPD staffing levels, the precincts are restricted in their ability to operate independently or to develop innovative means of fighting or preventing crime. The SCMPD precinct officers do not have the time and the precincts themselves do not have the manpower to undertake significant crime prevention efforts.
Committee members saw minimal contact between patrol officers and the public outside of stops and responding to calls. With the precincts under-staffed and, as a result, primarily focused on responding to 911 Calls For Service, precinct or local officers have little time to interact in a non-emergency way. This creates an us versus them view of the police, or what Kelling and Bratton refer to as stranger policing.
There are three reasons why reliance on special units to fight crime furthers the community-police divide. First, special units, foreign officers, enter an area that they have little intimate knowledge of, conduct their operation and then leave. This practice does not encourage communication. Second, special units have staffing priority over patrol, keeping patrol overworked with little time to work with the community. Third, an unintended result of special operations is that they can reduce the effectiveness of patrol officers, devaluing them in the eyes of the community.
Specialized squads can even, in a perverse way, ultimately reduce a department's power to deal with the problems they were created to handle. In the short run, of course, there is a burst of energy as the departments leading lights are brought together and allowed to focus exclusively on the new job. Less noticeable, however, the rest of the force often quietly gives up whatever part it had previously played. If it is an investigative problem, the patrol force lets the detectives do the work.
but if much of the department stops attending to major aspects of the ordinary police function, a great deal is lost. Only the specialized squads, which as the bloom of newness fades often become both overworked and inflexible, remain. (Sparrow, Moore, and Kennedy; Beyond 911, p. 116)
One Committee member witnessed an example of the problem that reliance on special units can cause. On a ride-along a Committee member passed a group that the patrol officer felt were dealing drugs. When asked what he does about that, the officer responded, CNT [Counter Narcotics Team] deals with them. CNT is a special unit that operates independently of the precincts. As a result, the community thinks the police are ineffective, because they see patrol officers driving past drug dealers, doing nothing. Consequently, community members see no reason to reach out and talk to their patrol officers about problems. This only furthers the divide.
Reacting as opposed to resolving problems:
The city, and as a result senior police leadership, do not encourage officers to solve the problems that encourage or facilitate crime. As a result, the SCMPDs emphasis is on reacting to and containing crime.
An example of reacting to a problem rather than resolving it was experienced by several Committee members when they went on ride-alongs on Friday and Saturday evenings in the Downtown Precinct. Predictably, in front of several problem bars and clubs 3 at closing time, about 3:00 a.m., the police were confronted with near-riot conditions requiring large numbers of officers armed with canisters of pepper spray to control. This problem can affect the entire county as officers from outlying precincts get called in to support Downtown precinct officers, leaving their precincts under- or un-patrolled. These conditions occur regularly on early Saturday and Sunday mornings. 3 It should be noted that most bars and clubs downtown present no problems for the SCMPD.
By way of contrast, officers in Charleston know that their job is to resolve such problems. First, they work with a problem bar to help it change its practices, and failing that, officers have a process to petition to have the establishment closed. They understand that the city and their leadership expect this from them, and that a process exists to address such problem establishments.
The Police Committee saw little evidence of such leadership and support from the city to eliminate conditions and solve problems that contribute to crime. If the conditions that encourage crime are permitted to persist, then crime too will persist.
The Committees recommendations are organized into four categories: the communitys crime reduction goals, police operations, city and county support of the police and citizen involvement.
Communitys Crime Reduction Goals
1. City, County and Police set aggressive crime reduction goals.
The Police, city and county must come together and agree on aggressive crime reduction goals. The 5% crime reduction goals for 2005 are insufficient. We suggest an absolute minimum goal for crime reduction of 10%. This will require that the SCMPD, county and city become a results-driven and problem-solving team. SCMPD is the lead agency in combating and preventing crime, but they must have vigorous support to be effective.
The machinery to communicate, monitor and pursue crime-reduction goals currently exists in the weekly police CompStat meetings. Supporting city and county agencies should attend so that they can better coordinate their support of the police. (See City of Savannah Recommendations below). Together, the city and police can monitor their crime reduction progress.
When the Committee spent time in Charleston, Police Chief Greenburg continually repeated the theme that expectations for public safety are high in Charleston. No matter who is the Chief in Charleston, he was certain the city would demand performance. Committing to aggressive crime reduction goals is the Committees most fundamental recommendation.
In general, the police must become focused on crime prevention and problem solving. This is the best long-term response to calls for service: eliminate their causes. Our recommendations for the police revolve around two main ideas:
From our observations the SCMPD has been allocated sufficient men and money. (The SCMPD has about 600 officers and a budget for 2005 of 46 million dollars.) This observation is supported by comparisons with other similar departments. Our suggestions do not include expanding the budget or increasing the number of authorized officers. Rather, our focus is on ways to more effectively deploy the currently allocated resources and make sure the department deploys all the officers it has already been allocated.
Much of headquarters and special unit policing personnel should be moved to the precincts. Headquarters should concentrate on evaluating the effectiveness of the precincts, supporting their efforts and ensuring they have the personnel, resources, tactics and leadership to reduce crime. This will make ownership of crime clear: responsibility will be on the precinct.
Headquarters already has the tools to do this in the CompStat data and weekly meetings. CompStat was first created and used in New York City by Commissioner Bratton. It was fundamental to their success in reducing crime.
Headquarters needs to increase its focus on using CompStat to drive down crime and transmit a sense of urgency throughout SCMPD. With CompStat, SCMPD can determine what is working, what is not, and adjust resources and tactics accordingly.
2. Implement organization-wide reforms to enhance police effectiveness, including the following:
3. Move resources to the precincts to promote clear ownership of crime:
4. Re-emphasize the basics: Every officer a patrol officer.
Every Marine a Rifleman is a notion adopted by the U.S. Marines to keep the entire organization focused on its basic mission. We suggest that the SCMPD adopt a similar viewEvery officer a Patrol officerto underline the notion that patrol is the essence of SCMPD and that all positions, in the end, are there to support patrol in their work to prevent crime.
Patrol officers are the most visible part of the SCMPD and the ones who, in theory, interact the most with county residents. They need to be among the best officers. This will only be the case if patrol is treated as a place of prestige and a venue for promotion. It should be department policy that good performance in patrol is critical for promotion and that promoted officers are encouraged to remain in patrol at their higher rank and pay.
All precincts should be strongly encouraged to deploy some of their officers in ways that permit them to intimately know their community and the problems facing it. This could be via foot patrol in the entertainment district, bike patrol downtown and in other densely populated areas, and walk and talk cruiser-based officers in areas like the Southside. The critical requirement would be that officers remain in an area long enough to gain residents and businesses trust and are sufficiently free from answering service calls that they spend most of their time interacting with residents, understanding their problems and solving them.
One of the major changes critical to NYCs success was focusing on quality of life and disorder problems: problems such as graffiti, squeeze men, public intoxication and panhandling. Savannah and the County have a large role to play in supporting the SCMPD efforts to address quality of life issues. The police, via patrol officers, should become the lead agency in dispatching city services to combat blight and disorder. Officers are everywhere at all times in the county. They know where out-of-service streetlights, overgrown lots and abandoned buildings are contributing to crime. The city and county should take advantage of this knowledge.
5. Better technology.
SCMPD should have the technology to better prepare and access reports, facilitate communications within the department, and permit officers to run tag, warrant and parole checks on their own.
Laptop Computers: Committee members witnessed officers waiting for access to desktop computers to complete reports after their shift. In response, many officers have purchased their own laptop computers and cobbled together software to prepare and print crime reports. Additionally, many reports are still written by hand. Reports, no matter how generated, are then scanned into the
The Committee recommends that the department provide WiFi-enabled laptops for every officer. Each precinct should be WiFi enabled. The computer should be assigned to the officer. This will
Handheld communication device: Currently officers have to radio in requests to run tag checks for warrants or parole violations. On busy nights it can take an officer 15 to 20 minutes to receive a response. This is problematic for two reasons. First, the time spent waiting for a response is time that could be used patrolling. Second, officers would perform many more tag and warrant checks if
A handheld device such as a Palm Pilot or Blackberry for every patrol car or person on foot or bike patrol that can access the relevant databases for checks is recommended. This is the one Committee recommendation that may require additional funding. However, it will make the police more effective. (There may also be grants available to the department to purchase such technology.)
6. Improve city and county services support for police.
The city must commit itself to backing the police with city service personnel in departments such as Property Maintenance, Traffic Engineering, Streets Maintenance, Revenue, Fire, and Alcohol Beverage Control. These agencies must be committed to working with police to solve problems by removing their source. This support must include having personnel available after business hours if that is when the problem confronting the SCMPD occurs.
To coordinate the combined city services-police services effort, city service representatives should attend the SCMPDs weekly CompStat meetings and be prepared to discuss their support of police requests.
7. Pass ordinances needed to improve public safety
The City should work with the police to craft legislative solutions to some of the persistent causes of disorder and crime. We suggest the city consider passing ordinances to do the following:
8. Provide for a mechanism to review progress.
It is the Police Committees desire that this report will help make the SCMPD a more effective organization. This will not happen if this reports is read, discussed and then filed away to accompany the previous reports by similar groups.
The City of Savannah needs to appoint a group to return to review the progress made by the City and the SCMPD in their efforts to reduce crime and assure the citizens that they live in a safe community. The Committee suggests that such a review be conducted in 6 months, a year, and 2 years to report on the progress made, or not made, in reducing crime.
9. Become involved.
All of Savannah and Chatham County must be safe for all residents to live and work. This will only happen if the citizens demand and support the changes needed to make it so. To the extent that citizens believe that the suggestions in this report have merit, the Committee urges all citizens to let city and county public officials know that. In the end, the community will get the level of policing it demands.
Kelling, George, and Coles, Catherine. Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. New York: The Free Press, 1996.
Knobler, Peter. The Turnaround: How Americas Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic. New York: Random House, 1998.
Measuring What Matters: Proceedings from the Policing Research Institute Meetings (1-64). Research Report. National Institute of Justice, July 1999.
Sparrow, Malcolm K., Moore, Mark H., and Kennedy, David M. Beyond 911: A new era for policing. New York: Basic Books, 1990.
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies