Friday, October 24, 2008

The Brattton Visit

Buz attended the talk given last Thursday night at Evergreen by Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.  Your consultant found the talk very intellectually stimulating, but felt a tad uncomfortable with some of the things the Chief was saying--inasmuch as they applied to Baltimore, and some of the things spinning around my poor brain. Peter Hermann in his blog goes over pretty well  what Chief Bratton said, so I won't bore my poor readers by repeating. I refer you-all to his blog at

I did have a bit of cognitive dissonance, though, having experienced a variety of policing in my growing up in Baltimore and my career: old Baltimore "regular policing"--both pre-Pomerleau, anItalicd reform after Pomerleau was Commissioner; and his successors, who basically carried on his systems, "community policing" under Tom Frazier, and the "New York style" policing under Ed Norris--on whose watch I retired. I also am coming up to the end of reading Peter Mosko's book on his stint in the Baltimore Police, most, if not all, of which was under the Norris implementation of the New York/Bratton model--including pro-arrest policies.

Now, let's give Bratton his due: He appears to be a savvy police manager, morale builder, and good administrator; his results speak for themselves. Ex-Commissioner Frazier, chatting with me today said: "Bratton's the real thing." Bratton said that he loves cops, and he loves cities, and really loves being a cop. He then went on to lead us thru a history of policing styles and paradigms, with a bit of criticism here and there. His philosophy was summed up by a somewhat complex version community policing mixed in with Jack Maple's interpretation for policing of the rational decision making principles: 1. timely and accurate intelligence (dots on a computer-generated map); 2. putting cops on dots; 3. sound strategy; and 4. relentless followup. Now, these were supposed to be the cornerstones of the "Compstat" model of doing business. Buz could not help wondering if Bill Bratton would help if he were brought to Baltimore as the Commish. Take a look at Charles Village's reported crime on a map for 90 days, for example, and tell the district commander how to handle that with his limited resources. 

But, you  know, Baltimore has had Compstat, or its version of it, for years, and perhaps they're doing it "right" now, I dunno. But at the time I left the department(2001), and for some time after, my colleagues in the operational side told me, that it had evolved into a "gotcha" session--whereby commanders who were unpopular or disliked by one of the officials questioning them were asked more and more detailed questions about crimes in their area--til eventually they were stumped: Gotcha! (Buz hopes that they're not still doing this-though he heard that the Deputy Commissioner for Operations got so angry not too long ago that he threw a bunch of papers-hopefully on the floor). 

Frankly, I do not expect that a district commander should have to know, study, and memorize every detail of every single crime that occurred since the last Compstat. He/she (they don't have any women district commanders now as far as I know--the starting lineup is in pencil, though) should know patterns, trends, areas of concern, and be able to articulate what actions have been taken to deal with problems, as well as any significant resolutions to incidents. And with each district limited in personnel, it's not clear at all that a whole lot of discretionary resources are available to district commanders to address their problem areas.

It was good to hear Bratton say: I love cities. I  love being a police officer.  Cops count! Police Matter! I believe that also.

He also said that the first duty of government in a democracy is public safety.  I believe that, too. He said police can change citzen behavior, regardless of other situational, demographic, and environmental factors.
As he took us thru the history of the evolution of police management, he, like others, denigrated "rapid response", random patrol, and, of course, 911. So, Buz thought back to the recent community meetings he has attended, reflected on experience, and wondered: what's really happening that's different? Citizens not only don't get rapid response, they claim, often, that they don't get any response. Some say they never see patrolling police, that they don't feel safe, and always have to look over their shoulder. 911 calls are backed up because there aren't any units available to handle them. The notion of response to calls, random patrol, and service to citizens sometimes seems to fall by the wayside. Moskos said it became: "let's go lock up a druggie". Now, maybe it worked in New York, Boston, the NY subways, and to some degree in Los Angeles. But it would be really interesting to have Bratton come here to Baltimore, to see if he gets the same results with this cantankerous criminal justice system. Perhaps Bealefeld is using some to the Bratton techniques to get the murders down to the current level. We're all rooting for him; we all want a safe city. (Bealefeld recently said at the Northwood meeting that no one loves cops more than him. Do I sense a kindred spirit of Bratton's?)

Bratton, in New York, talked about having a "booking bus" when he was Transit Police Chief. Seven out of ten suspects were let go on minor charges after booking; they kept the ones wanted on warrants and having guns. New York has "desk appearance tickets", which means that after you get arrested, fingerprinted, photographed, and checked for warrants, you get a summons for court and are released. He didn't have to contend with a Central Booking which was crushed and brought to its knees by Baltimore police making 100,000 arrest every year for a number of years in a row. Officers were taken out of service writing the reports, the statement of charges, and taking evidence for storage. And while they were doing that, the prosecutors were dropping, stetting, and nolle-prossing those same arrestees left and right. Calls for service were being answered late or not at all, but the cops were racking up lot of overtime with the 9:01am time stamps for court on their meaningless arrests. And many of those who went to trial got postponements, PBJs, suspended sentences, repeated offenses ignored or downplayed, made bail on 1% of money asked, and thought they now had street cred.  Of course, Central Booking, for some, was a very unpleasant and de-humanizing day or two. But "changing behavior" of citizens? I don't think so. 

Bratton also reported having a huge army of police at his disposal in New York to deal with problem areas. (He admitted to not having that in LA.). He gives the figure of  38,000 police. He doesn't mention the huge increase in police personnel, brought about by the Safe Streets Act enacted before he became Commissioner, bringing that number of police into existence from about 31,000; all New York State residents were taxed to bring about today's safer New York City.  

The compstat process seems to focus on the location and number and time of serious crimes. Yet, somehow, to my mind, there seems to be a conflict, with the simultaneous emphasis of quality of life crimes. Police do two almost-different things: fight crime and maintain order thru other types of law enforcement. Compstat aims at fighting crime, but order maintenance, which he lauded back to the old policing era doesn't lend itself to a Compstat model, and other criticism of "old" style of policing. Calls for service to 911, rapid response, and patrolling are most often used to maintain order in a community--there is an overlap with crime-fighting, but the two present a coherent whole of a safe community. When law-abiding citizens call, one used to be believe a cop could be there in 5 minutes or so when something is going on; a patrolling police presence can prevent crime and reassure residents, who can wave and chat with them. A rapid response is needed to maintain order when an assault is going on. Some of these may or may not show "scientifically" to reduce crime sometimes, but borderline illegal stop-and-frisks, lack of discretionary arrests and citations, and lack of followup don't maintain crime-fighting or order in the long run.

There is also a huge difference in the issues Baltimore faces when compared with cities like New York, Boston and LA. Baltimore has a huge percentage of its population belonging to the poverty demographic--much higher than those cities, percentage wise. And Baltimore's known drug addiction issues take a much higher toll on this poverty-stricken town, percentage-wise than those cities. And folks who regularly deal with behavior of addicts know that changing behavior is hard. Bratton believes policing can change behavior; and to some extent, I think he's right, but it also must function in an environment supporting that. One only need to look at the suspects in many serious crimes here in Baltimore just this past year: suspended sentence, released on bail, violation of probation, suspended sentence, time served, probation, etc. Everybody has to be in the game. Yes, police play a big role, and Bill Bratton is the big guy in policing (no doubt a brilliant, forceful, and courageous manager), but he still has to win over the loyalty of his cops and get them and their managers to perform, and get them the resources to do it. And the other players in the system have to be true partners in helping fix the problems.

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