DC already has the most police per capita of any city in the US: should we hire more police officers, rashly, without a plan? (I say no.)
It's not a surprise that there has been a drumbeat for more police as there seems to be a rise in street crimes involving guns, and residents plus Washington Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe ("More DC cops coming to a neighborhood near you") are always clamoring for more police anyway.
And the police union is favorable to hiring more officers, paying them more money, with early eligibility for pensions...
More guns scares people but doesn't mean we need more police. But people think because there has been an uptick in gun crimes (people use guns to induce compliance and to increase their likelihood of success but they don't necessarily intend to use the guns) and some crazy things (like the brutal beating of the guy in Capitol Hill or the murder of someone near Lincoln Park just before Christmas) that there is more crime, whereas for me it seems more like a cyclical increase (partly due to the economy) comparable to other upward cycles of criminal violence that I recall happening over the last 25 years that I've lived in DC--and yes, the city's crime rate is significantly lower than it was 15-20 years ago.
Chief Lanier (lauded in a cover story in Governing Magazine last summer, see "Cathy Lanier changes policing in D.C. and maybe nation") argues that she needs more officers because the city population is increasing and more areas of the city are revitalizing and experiencing more activity.
But this troubles me because DC already has more local police officers per capita than any other city in the United States.
Plus, and not counted in that figure, DC has thousands of federal police officers policing in the city, in addition to the local force. Such agencies include the US Capitol Police--they have jurisdiction 8 blocks in every direction from the US Capitol, US Park Police--they have jurisdiction across the city, the Uniformed Secret Service--they patrol near embassies, the Federal Protective Service--they patrol near federal buildings, other agencies like the Amtrak Police and the Metro Transit Police.
Additionally, agreements with bordering police agencies such as with Prince George's County allow each jurisdiction's officers the ability to pursue criminals across the city-county line. (On my grand jury we've had at least two cases involving suspects apprehended in DC by PG County Police.)
You can argue that the real issue is that other cities need more police, but Los Angeles (pop. 3.8 million) has about 9500 officers. Baltimore has about 3,000 officers. They also have more crime and a larger geographical footprint, but about the same population, but a greater percentage of impoverished residents. Boston has about the same population as DC, and 2,100 officers. Chicago (pop. 2.7 million) has about 12,000 officers. San Francisco has a population greater than 800,000 and about 2,400 police officers.
Research indicates that focusing police resources on hot spots where a preponderance of crimes occurs is the best way to reduce crime
And, as the article in Governing Magazine indicates, MPD orients its officers in exactly that function. From the New York Times article "Prison population can shrink when police crowd streets":
Elsewhere, studies have shown that crime drops when more police officers are hired, so it is not surprising that the expansion of New York’s police force in the 1990s by more than a third was accompanied by a drop in crime. But during the past decade, the force has shrunk by 15 percent, and yet crime has mostly continued falling.
When Dr. Zimring and other criminologists look at this trend, and compare it with the fluctuating crime rates in other cities, they conclude that the retreat in crime in New York is not just a matter of the number of police officers. Those officers must be doing something right, but what exactly?
The most likely answer is a shift in strategy called hot-spot policing.
In the 1970s, research had shown that a small percentage of criminals committed a large share of crimes, so it had seemed logical to concentrate on catching repeat offenders and locking them up.
But after computerized crime mapping was introduced, it turned out that crime was even more concentrated by place than by person.
In city after city, researchers found that half of crimes occur within about 5 percent of an urban area — a few buildings, intersections and blocks, often near transit stops and businesses like convenience stores, bars and nightclubs.
The criminal population keeps changing as men in their 30s drop out and are replaced by teenagers, but crimes keep occurring at the same places. ... Researchers suggested: Perhaps the authorities should pay less attention to individual criminals and more attention to the hot spots where they operate.
Before adding more police officers, I'd really like an analysis of the current force structure and crime patterns, and a plan (e.g., National Policing Plan, British Transport Police). Charlie pointed out that the recent Seattle police plan I lauded (SPD 20/20: A Vision for the Future) didn't list as a goal reducing crime.
And I do caution the way that planning processes are typically conducted for police departments because typically the organizations doing the plans are affiliated with police organizations and generally their conclusions call for more police as a matter of course.
Other initiatives--not just having and hiring more cops--can reduce crime more
The main point I would argue is that there are other initiatives that could be undertaken which would have greater positive impact on crime reduction. That it is not enough to merely hire some more police officers. Every neighborhood will clamor for more and 100 more, divided by 7 police districts, ends up being "pretty small" from that standpoint.
Although there is one initiative recommended below that could involve more police officers, instead I recommend changes in procedures and programs and greater investments in technology--as is the trend in most business sectors--rather than more expenditures on labor per se.
The point should be to invest in policing and criminal justice in focused ways, rather than to just spend more money.
I have to say that over the past month while serving on a Grand Jury, I have learned quite a bit about how the MPD has reorganized its force structure to deal with specific types of crime and violence, for example, gun crimes, drug sales, and stolen vehicles. And there is no question that the department is definitely focused on problem-oriented policing, the kind of work explored in the pathbreaking article in Atlantic Magazine almost 30 years ago, "Broken Windows: the police and neighborhood safety" by Wilson and Kelling.
1. Changes to bail and release procedures. DC has very liberal release procedures for people who have been arrested for criminal activity. On the other hand, the Pre Trial Release Services agency does a particularly good job of making decisions about whether or not to releasing and monitoring people before trial. There was a piece about this as it relates to New York State in the New York Times last week, "Lippman, New York's Chief Judge, Seeks to Overhaul Bail Process," and I think it has some relevance to DC. Probably a few more people need to be incarcerated before trial, which would reduce crime somewhat.
2. Changes to practices concerning the juvenile justice system. There have been so many examples of youths released to the care of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services who have subsequently committed other crimes, including murder, or who have been murdered, under the supervision of DYRS that I wouldn't know where to begin. Post columnist Colbert King has written a lot about this over the years (e.g., "Even in city custody, no refuge from the streets" and "City-supervised District youth still killing and being killed").
While I understand the importance of rehabilitating youth and not forever labeling them for crimes committed during the period where their cognitive skills are underdeveloped, at the same time there is no question that the current system isn't working. Changes here would make a huge difference in street crime specifically.
3. Even more focus on certain types of place-based policing: near transit stations and on transit. For a variety of reasons, transit stations are loci for crime, even though the general research is somewhat equivocal. Basically places that are highly frequented provide more opportunities for crime, and that includes transit, both stations and on transit vehicles (train cars and buses).
The thing is like William Bratton figured out in NYC. Criminals commit crimes of all types, big and small. When you catch them doing a small crime like jumping a turnstile or not paying a bus fare, you catch people who may have guns, outstanding warrants, etc. From the New Republic article "Excessive Force":
New York applied the broken-windows approach in other ways as well. Working with Kelling, William Bratton, David Dinkins's transit-police chief, cracked down in 1990 on low-level disorder in the subways, such as turnstile-jumping. Subway felonies dropped 75 percent, and robberies dropped 64 percent.
Many neighborhoods also experience criminals following people leaving transit stations and subsequently assaulting/robbing them. And bad stuff can happen on or to buses. Metro Transit does do plainclothes details in stations and on buses, but they cover the whole system. Thousands of bus trips and train trips occur each day and they have about 500 officers total.
I wonder if DC MPD should create a transit detail to operate in DC, to complement and extend the Metro Transit Police, which operate not just in DC, but also on the system in Maryland and Virginia, spreading the force out.
That's the one place where I could see adding a unit of MPD officers as a pilot, which could justify adding up to 100 officers over time. It would create some issues with WMATA, but I think they would probably appreciate the help. I also think more surveillance cameras (yes, this raises some Constitutional issues) could be installed in and around transit stations (see the next point).
-- Hot Spots of Bus Stop Crime, Prof. Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, UCLA
-- Geography of Transit Crime, Loukaitou-Sideris et al., UCLA
-- Transit Security: A Description of Problems and Countermeasures, FTA
4. Continuing investment in technology. Just like how manufacturing is becoming increasingly capital-intensive rather than labor-intensive, police departments are improving effectiveness through the use of technology ("The Future Is Here: Technology in Police Departments," Police Chief Magazine and "Real-Life Police Technology Catches up With Science Fiction," GovTech Magazine).
Increasingly, MPD is a leader in the use of such aids. For example, 10 years ago, the department was criticized for "not taking stolen cars seriously." Now with licence plate readers installed in stationary locations as well as on certain police cars, perpetrators are being arrested and the cars they steal recovered far more frequently than in the past. Gun shot identification technology helps direct police to areas where guns are used, increasing the likelihood of apprehension of the shooter, etc. ("Shot Spotters," Wired Magazine).
a. License plate readers. If MPD needs more license plate readers get them. (But man, MPD is getting great results as it is!)
b. Gunshot detection systems. If MPD needs more of these units (I think they do), get them.
c. Surveillance cameras. Greater deployment of surveillance cameras needs to be considered in and around transit stations and highly frequented night time destinations (such as Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and H Street) to assist in monitoring safety, interdicting crime, and catching perpetrators.
-- "Philadelphia delegation goes to Baltimore to seek pointers on surveillance cameras, Philadelphia Inquirer
-- Public Surveillance Cameras and Crime, webpage, Urban Institute.
From Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention:
Findings indicate that in places where cameras were sufficiently concentrated and routinely monitored by trained staff, the impact on crime was significant and cost-beneficial, with no evidence of crime displacement.
5. Changing the role of parking enforcement officers to be more comparable to what in the UK are called "neighborhood wardens." In the old days, police did do a lot more neighborhood type stuff (I read a set of building permit actions around 1900 or earlier about how the beat officer was directed to investigate an illegal building matter), now they have too much to do.
One way to add more focus on quality of life infractions would be to employ the UK's neighborhood warden concept, which empowers personnel without full police powers to deal with such crimes (graffiti, dumping, etc.) and to more closely monitor and report on suspicious activity. One way to accomplish this without adding more personnel would be to expand the role of parking enforcement officers--the personnel who ticket illegally parked vehicles--as they move through the city's neighborhoods. (Note that DPW and DCRA inspectors already do a bit of this.)
-- Neighborhood Warden Schemes: An Overview, UK Home Office
-- Neighbourhood Warden Scheme evaluation, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Neighbourhood Renewal Unit
-- Neighbourhood Wardens Review, Mansfield District
-- Neighbourhood Wardens, Hammersmith & Fulton, London, UK
-- Neighborhood Wardens, Durham County, UK
6. National Gun Sales Policies. Considering that it is illegal to carry a gun outside of the home in DC and it is incredibly difficult to buy a gun legally in DC, it is amazing that there are in fact lots and lots and lots of guns in DC. This is because in many jurisdictions it is easy to buy a gun, which are then transported and sold to people in DC.
The Washington Post did a great series on "crime guns" and sales of such in the region, particularly Virginia and Maryland, in "The Hidden Life of Guns." This kind of research needs to be conducted on an ongoing basis by the MPD Crime Analysis Unit.
Nationally, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, has made this a big issue, such as with the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
DC's elected officials should be advocating for changes in gun laws that make it harder for guns to be acquired and used illegally in DC.
7. Gang violence. I believe that MPD has been quite successful in this area, but it is an issue in many jurisdictions across the county, maybe less so in Washington, DC, at least now.
Boston had a lot of experience with focused efforts in this arena.
-- "Straight Outta Boston," Mother Jones Magazine
-- Cure Violence project.