A New Policing Strategy for Baltimore

The Baltimore City Police Department is in turmoil. Though there have been some minor gains, our police commissioners have introduced various strategies that have done little to combat the decay affecting the city. It is obvious that we need a new strategy, and I have one to offer.

In June 2007, public safety in Baltimore City was the hot issue. Ron Smith and other personalities on WBAL were constantly discussing what to do with outbreaks of violence in tourist areas in addition to the high murder rate. After many back and forth discussions, I introduced to Ron the idea of the Japanese “kōban.” A “kōban” is a small office used for policing, and is part of a greater community-policing strategy. They were once the model for dealing with crime and civil unrest, with Ancient Rome relying on small, local policing as their standard.

A strategy for incorporating the concept in Baltimore City developed over the month. In July, I submitted a plan to Clarence Mitchell IV and asked him to forward it to his cousin Keiffer Mitchell. Keiffer declared himself as a candidate for mayor, and he was looking for new ideas to help turn the city around. He took up many of my ideas, but he unfortunately did not win. Maybe we would not be in the situation we are in today if my plan was implemented.

Here is a summary of what I proposed:

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A “kōban”  is a small building that a limited amount of police officers use as their headquarters in a community. For Baltimore City, it need not be bigger than a 15′ by 15′ office with a desk, some chairs, and a computer. It can be part of a larger, community building, but it must be easily accessible from the street. The building should be placed in a central location of a 3 block by 3 block grid, which covers 9 blocks and would be could “prefectures” to give them a unique term.

The community system would be incorporated into the current precinct network, but would retain some distinction from the overall police system. Prefectures (9 blocks) would not be isolated but part of a larger grouping – 4 prefectures forming a 2 by 2 grid (6 by 6 blocks total) or a 3 by 3 grid (9 by 9 blocks total). Each prefecture office would have 3 shifts of 8 hours (covering 24 hours per day) with 2 officers on-duty during that time.

The 2 officers would represent one new officer and one experienced officer. One officer would stay at the office while the other is on foot patrol. When the patrol officer returns, then the other would immediately go on patrol. In a 2×2 prefecture grid, there would be 4 officers on patrol in the community at any given time. The patrols would be staggered so there would be a clear view of a community. Each office would have a car to allow for quick response at any given time. If any officer is in need, at least 4 could quickly arrive as support at any point of the day.

Each office would have two sets of officers for each shift, allowing for each pair to serve in the prefecture 3.5 days a week on a rotating schedule. The other time would be served at the local precinct office filing paperwork or performing other duties. In one set of 2×2 prefecture offices, 24 new officers would be given experience with both policing and interacting with the community.

The benefits of this system include an increased police presence in the most dangerous of neighborhoods at all periods of day, allowing for a tightened focus with heightened security. Cameras connected to the prefecture office would allow for other monitoring, and an open office 24 hours a day would allow for strong community involvement. Offices can be connected to larger community structures or meeting rooms, creating a safe environment for the community to gather.

This plan would be limited in size and scope. By having a small system, the overall strategy of the Baltimore Police Department would not have to dramatically change. This would allow for a trial of community policing in the worst neighborhoods without an excessive disbursement of resources.

Baltimore City residents need to feel safe, but they also need to feel respected. By having a constant foot presence in their community, both the community and the officers get to know one another. The officers would be encouraged to participate in community functions, to work with community leaders, and to show that they are part of the community. The constant rotation of officers would allow for maximum exposure of young officers to community practices and activities. The active presence of officers would also help the community see officers as part of their community and not in opposition to them, and they would hopefully inspire new recruits from the community as a whole.

If the prefectures are placed correctly, students would feel safe coming home from school and play outside without fear. Youth would become more involved in the community instead of getting into trouble, drugs, or gangs. Because of the increased police presence, drug dealers would become unable to conduct business on the street, and vandals and thieves would be less likely to get away with criminal activities. We could finally begin to break the cycle of crime that entraps so many and ravages our neighborhoods.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies safety as a building block to everything else. Without security, the social, mental, and emotional health of the individual declines. By guaranteeing the safety of the citizen, we create a better community. My proposal provides a strong, active police presence that will help shape a healthier future, with citizens who are willing to work harder, care about their community, respect themselves, and then encourage others to become better.

The need for a new policing strategy is neither a Republican nor a Democrat idea; it is common sense.

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