Justifying your crime interdiction efforts

May 26, 2011
Would you take your family and stay overnight at some of the hotels or motels you respond to when on shift? Of course not, but then again how do you determine which locations are “chronic service drains”?

It’s that time again

Unless the rising gas prices kill it, then we about to enter into our national vacation period of “Summer Break”.  Traditionally, that has meant an uptick with hotel and motel use with travelers moving to and fro.  As we all know, an increase in any population, whether transient or seasonal, will ultimately trickle down to an increase in police calls for service.   The obvious is that hotels and motels attract their own unique trash (Crooks I’m talking about here) that use the locations as a home base for operations, namely drug trafficking, prostitution, moving stolen goods and others.   These places also bring in profitable victims in that those to travel and stay overnight will often have cash and other valuables ready for the picking by the would be thief.  It’s a perfect convergence, or storm, of crime-ridden factors.

Crunch the numbers

Would you take your family and stay overnight at some of the hotels or motels you respond to when on shift?  Of course not, but then again how do you determine which locations are “chronic service drains”?  Generally before any agency (if they do it at all) engages in proactive, or tactical, policing operations needs to collect their data and establish an objective analysis of where trouble is found.   Why?   Because citizens, the media and elected officials (those we answer to) do not have that naturally born “cop instinct” of just knowing who is up to what and where.  If you want to do aggressive policing in problematic hotel/motels, but are gun shy about generating complaints then crunch your numbers.  People like looking at the “numbers”, because they are tangible.  If a commoner sees a percentage or ratio then they have an easier time wrapping their mind around the problems cops face and are much more apt to support the police when the cops do the dirty work.  But then again why should we care what our stakeholders think?  It’s all about image and not what is right or wrong.  Whoever looks the best publically wins.  Just ask your politicians.

In our current political climate, law enforcement is hyper sensitive toward citizen complaints and we need to do a better job with public relations.  Dazzle people with the facts of your hard work and take a proactive approach to defending your work.  Don’t know where to start?  Fortunately, the Chula Vista, Ca., Police Department has an identified process to serve as guide for the rest of us.  They, like many jurisdictions, had a particularly bad hotel/motel crime issue.  Their “Motel Project” was the solution.

One, Two, Three

First, the project is part of a larger strategy and uses elements of Problem Oriented Policing principles to address the underlying causes of crime.  Second, it uses a unique “Calls-for-Service-per-Room” ratio that helps you determine how smaller hotels stack up to larger ones in terms of reported events.  Have an owner or operator of a particular hotel complaining the police target his or her location?  Provide a data-driven answer with comparison ratio’s that logically defuse the complaint.  It’s hard to argue you are being picked on by the police when they can show you actual calls for service from your establishment that accounts for most of the crime calls for the district, especially when compared to other similar vendors.  Finally, there is an educational component where hotel or motel staff are taught how to define what is suspicious, what to do and how to displace potential opportunity for criminal activity before it happens.  Involving them gets support for you.  The city even has a special website that lists shared documents for other agencies that might need guidance in the areas of creating nuisance ordinances, procedures, and my favorite, a spreadsheet document to help create the comparison statistics.  Just plug in your numbers and get your comparison results instantly.

We should be able to just go out, do our jobs, and be supported, but we can’t.  Citizen complaints due to police activities is one of the foundational aspects of democratic policing.  The upside is that our citizens can freely voice their opinions and exercise their rights without fear of police reprisal (compared to other countries).  The downside is that politicians will throw us under the bus for what they know is absolutely necessary, but politically dangerous for their careers.  Embracing this culture of policing with politics starts by defending our actions with facts not fiction.

Web Links:

About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.

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