Opinion: Policing in the New Year

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There are no easy answers or “magic solutions” when putting together an anti-crime strategy.

The end of one year and the beginning of another is the perfect time to pause and take stock of things, to measure what type of progress, if any, you’ve made over the previous 12 months and to look forward to what you hope to accomplish in the months to come. The end of 2017 is just such a moment for me and while there are many areas ripe for consideration, I’m thinking now about crime and specifically anti-crime efforts.

Despite what some might say, whether in Washington DC or in the next town over, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no quick or easy answers to addressing crime, nor are there “magic solutions” when putting together an anti-crime strategy. If we’re going to be honest, there are many overlapping issues and circumstances that feed the problem and this necessitates a multi-track approach.

One immediate concern that gets the bulk of my attention is in the area of hiring, including the ongoing replacement of police officers leaving the department for various reasons—whether it be retirement or job opportunities elsewhere. Police Chief Gaimari has been very proactive in this regard because in addition to keeping adequate staffing for the community, it impacts the level of State assistance, which in turn impacts other key programs, such as PAL and the Police Explorer Program that focuses on our young people.

Beyond just numbers, these efforts emphasize hiring a diverse police force in light of the fact that we have a diverse city. Efforts also include an emphasis on our Hispanic community, who get victimized heavily, according to the Police Department’s analysis, at upwards of 40 percent. Efforts feature outreach to high schools and job fairs for recruitment, highlighting opportunities for Class I and Class II officers that help augment the type and level of service in the community.

Under Chief Gaimari’s leadership, walking patrols have been increased over the past several years from an average of 248 per month to an average of 460 per month. Also, bike patrols, which were active to a great degree this past summer, will be active again in spring when the warmer weather returns. It’s these strategies, along with the creation of a mobile police substation, that are part of a multi-track anti-crime approach.

The Mobile Police Substation has been effective when out on the street and it has discouraged various types of activity when physically present, and at other times for the simple reason that those intent on breaking the law have no idea when or where the mobile substation will pop up—whether in the Milltown neighborhood, Cohansey View neighborhood, or Southeast Gateway neighborhood. While the mobile substation might not be out and about every day, it’s the element of surprise that makes its use effective.

No less important are relationships with residents of the Bridgeton community—young and the not-so-young. Toward that end, officers and residents have been enthusiastic about programs such as Play Streets, Police Athletic League, Coffee with a Cop, and Lunch with a Cop, which are extremely well-received by the children, and perhaps more so by the officers themselves. This may not seem like much, but it is part of building the currency that fosters understanding and trust—which is always necessary.

Our Police Chaplains program has been successful and discussions are underway to increase the number of police chaplains and use them in more creative ways to empower citizens and to give them an additional vehicle to be heard, regardless of language or nationality. This goes hand-in-hand with our Citizen’s Police Academy and quite frankly, we are hopeful of increasing the number of citizens participating in the academy program in 2018 because knowledge is power.

Other important areas of focus will be increased “Use of Force De-Escalation Training,” utilizing the Station House Adjustment program, and possibly creating a Youth Court to deal with young offenders encountering the system for the first time. The focus here is on accountability, responsibility, and restorative justice—all things that are important to young lives.

There’s always more work to do and that’s not stated by way of complaint, but as an acknowledgment that this work is ongoing, multi-faceted, and of the highest priority to us as the focus shifts toward the future. The change we seek won’t happen overnight, but our progress is steady with more to come in 2018.

Read: Opinion: Withholding in 2018

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