12/18/2007

'New York-style' crackdown tactics fail smaller cities, towns

Other cities concentrate on community policing 

By Mark Fazlollah
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA Everyone knows about the near-miraculous decrease of crime and violence in New York, triggered in part by an intense crackdown on minor offenses.

Hardly anybody talks about the recent failure of those tactics in Baltimore, where police took New York-style tactics to an extreme and arrested the equivalent of a sixth of the city's population every year. Murders went up anyway.


Baltimore police investigate a murder scene, May 28, 2001. Intense, "New York-style" law enforcement tactics have not proved successful in Baltimore and some Philadelphia suburbs. (AP Photo/Roberto Borea)
Baltimore's new police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld 3d, calling the number of arrests "mind-boggling," has turned away from the no-tolerance tactics that he said did little but clog the justice system.

Intense enforcement should be saved for violent criminals, he said. He wants more officers walking beats, rebuilding the department's frayed relationships with citizens.

Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice, said there was no one-size-fits-all solution for keeping citizens safe in towns struggling with drugs and violence.

"Some big-city solutions may not work in the small towns," McDevitt said.

It's a lesson that is slow to arrive in the Philadelphia suburbs. Some small-town chiefs are still pushing the crackdowns on minor offenses, citing the New York success, hoping it will be a silver bullet to end violent crime.

Darby, Coatesville and Pottstown for years made arrests at per-capita rates higher than New York's, even at the height of the city's "stop-and-frisk" campaigns in the 1990s. The result? Crime went up in all three towns since 2000.

In all three towns, and others around the state, the tactics fell much more harshly on African Americans. This disparity was even more pronounced in juvenile arrests: In Norristown, a town about a third black, more than three-fourths of all juveniles arrested during the last decade were African American.

Community policing
If high-arrest rates are not the solution, what is? Other cities are trying alternative methods, with some success.

Community policing, the new Baltimore model, is also the philosophy driving a North Carolina town's program, which the Justice Department calls one of the most innovative in America.

Chief James Fealy, of High Point, N.C., says he learned his lesson while running narcotics squads in Austin, Texas.

After a period of high-arrest tactics, in which mostly young black men were searched, one black community leader told him that his officers were "almost as bad as the dope dealers."

"It was like an old 1950s dragnet," Fealy said. "I swore I'd never do that again."

Under Fealy, High Point, a city of 92,000, targets violent pushers but gives the nonviolent ones a second chance - allowing them to avoid arrest if they get out of the drug business.

Churches, community leaders and even the parents and grandparents of the dealers now help keep them straight.

The program works about half the time, Fealy said.

"We were arrogant," Fealy said, explaining his old style of policing. "We thought we didn't need help from the community."

Fealy's program is being duplicated in cities as far away as Tucson, Ariz.

Fewer departments
Experts say Pennsylvania would have better policing if it had a lot fewer departments. Because of a fractured local government structure, Pennsylvania has 1,149 mostly tiny agencies - more than any other state, except Texas.

In just the four Pennsylvania counties surrounding Philadelphia, there are 147 departments - more than the entire state of Maryland.

"Montgomery County, Maryland, has one police chief," said Doylestown Township Chief Stephen White, a strong advocate of consolidation. "Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, has 48."

This splintered system mostly hurts the poorer, high-crime towns, cut off from the resources of wealthier communities next door.

Pennsylvania state officials have tried for years to coax departments to consolidate - but experts say without financial incentives, that's unlikely.

Diversity rules
When it comes to diversity, Pennsylvania's efforts have been minimal and the results just as small.

In order to receive national police certification, departments must have a plan to diversify in a way that reflects their communities.

In Pennsylvania, there is no such requirement.

Richard Hammon, head of the state police chiefs' accreditation program, said the issue wasn't "on the radar" when standards were developed. "That might change," he said.

The head of the Pennsylvania Commission of Crime and Delinquency, a public agency that funds the accreditation program, said the lack of racial diversity may be crippling one of his group's main goals: promoting community policing.

It won't work "if you have an imbalance between the officers and the community," said chairman Walter M. Phillips Jr.

He said a department's racial balance should count when his agency decides how to distribute millions of dollars in police grants.

"We can't dictate how to run their departments," he said. "We certainly can urge them to hire minorities."

Copyright 2007 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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