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by Peter Moskos

November 6, 2014

Better Policing Equals Less Crime

This is a no-brainer to many, but a lot of people -- usually those who don't like police -- still deny or diminish it: cops matter. And national trends are the result not some crime-related miasma but of the collective work in individual cities and neighborhoods.

Camden, NJ, is worth paying attention to. I haven't been following it too closely, but what I do know (in part due to my colleague John DeCarlo) is very interesting. Then:
In January 2011, the state slashed the budget for the city's police department by nearly 23 percent. The police union was dissolved after half of the uniformed officers were let go. The department - criticized by some as incompetent and ineffective - was then reconstituted as a county-run enterprise. But until new recruits could be brought on, the city suffered under the draconian cuts. There were nights when only 12 officers patrolled the entire nine square miles of the city.
And now:
The city - frequently labeled "America's Most Dangerous" - has recorded as of Friday the fewest homicides in a year going back to at least 2010.

In addition, during the first six months of 2014, the number of gunshots in the city fell nearly 50 percent over the previous year....

Despite two fatal shootings in quick succession this week, the number of killings is less than half of that two years ago. By Halloween 2012, Camden had buried 55 victims. This time last year, it had 43. As of Oct. 31, the city had seen 24. In 2010, at this point, there were 30.
By civilianizing or outsourcing every job that does not require a gun or a badge, the county-run force bolstered the number of boots on the ground.

Police walking beats are supplemented with "virtual patrols" by civilians, who monitor 120 surveillance cameras bolted to light poles. An additional 40 to 60 private security guards, sporting yellow-and-blue vests, roam the business district, calling in reports to the command center.
Of course some people still complain, but haters are always gonna hate.

Vallejo [California] has struggled for years. Crippled by high pension costs and public-employee salaries, it filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Things didn’t get much better after the city emerged from Chapter 9 in 2011: Crime was bad and the city’s police department was perpetually short-staffed. There were 10 murders in 2010, 14 in 2012, and 24 in 2013.
Obviously both cities cannot simply be reflective of some "national trend."


Dave- IL said...

"Police walking beats are supplemented with 'virtual patrols' by civilians, who monitor 120 surveillance cameras bolted to light poles. An additional 40 to 60 private security guards, sporting yellow-and-blue vests, roam the business district, calling in reports to the command center."

The change in Camden should certainly not be dismissed, but I am not so sure about this part. The increasing use of CCTV in public spaces has concerned me for some time. Do we really want to go the UK route?

The use of private security in business districts is also becoming a trend (also seen in Oakland and other cities). Now I have worked in private protection for a decade, so I don't have the irrational prejudice against private security that some--usually leftist--people have. In some environments (like the hospitals I have worked in), private, in-house security is preferable. But what is the real purpose of this added layer of surveillance in Camden's public spaces (the business district hasn't been privatized has it?).

Are these security officers working for the community in general or are they really working for area businesses? What are their duties? If these security officers are carrying out public policies, are they still "private?" Was Blackwater really doing private security?

What is needed here, as part of our overall discussion of policing in the US, is a discussion of the proper balance between public and private policing. Of course, most "policing" is done privately--in the home, the neighborhood, in the workplace--and it has always been this way. Organized public policing as we know it only came about in the 19th century. But where should we draw the line between the roles of private protection and public police?

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

I've noticed that PCM is often referring to "people who do not like police." Fair 'nuff; they exist, and they're often not that rational about it. But I hope that he isn't confusing them with "people who do not like cop-lovers."
Cop-lovers are scary folk: worshippers of violence and authoriteh, especially when directed against "those people," and most especially when lawless. Politicians are scared of cop-lovers, and our political system shows it.
It's like that old 1950's taxonomy, with the anti-Communists and the anti-anti-Communists. The latter were seldom sympathetic to Communism; they were terrified of anti-Communism.

PCM said...

That's a good point. When I say "people who don't like police" I mean people who always assume police are evil intentioned and at fault, no matter the circumstance. The flip side of people who defend police no matter what they do. I think there's a vast rational middle ground.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think you are too near the cop-lover side. One indication is how often you refer to the dangerous job cops do when it's not even in the top 10. Also, you talk about the low pay which around here is not true as I see the kids of my upper middle class neighbors going to school for degree/careers in "criminal justice" based on pay and benefits and perceived demand.

BG said...

Economists almost always assume that we don't have enough police. I personally push for my city to double the number of police. Most studies suggest that a large increase in police save the populace multiple times the amount that it costs them increased taxes due to less property crime and violent crime. I always couple my argument with two things.

1. Those police shouldn't be tasked to drug enforcement.
2. Police should be trained better and treated well by our government.

Police deserve respect. That doesn't mean they get a pass. I treat the people that work with me well, but they are still required to do their jobs correctly. Respect goes a long way though.

PCM said...

Well said.