Communities throughout the country are plagued by crime encompassing serious and problematic issues resulting in various forms of criminal victimization. Law enforcement agencies ponder various strategies and continuously develop different approaches to deal with the variety of crime that impact their jurisdictions. The successful models have demonstrated a proactive approach in their policing and community outreach efforts and have the support of the police chiefs in their respective agencies. Police Saturation Teams (SATS) or similar prototypes have proven successful in jurisdictions that employ them. "Police use saturation patrols in response to chronic crime problems in a neighborhood. The challenge is sustaining the short term goals achieved with substantial involvement of local police and engagement of the community," says Chuck Wexler, the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). "The goal is to prevent and deter through visibility - creating the appearance of an omni-presence - but, also, to ease fear and increase apprehensions of those who do commit crime in the target area," says Chief Cathy Lanier of the Washington D. C. Metropolitan Police Department.
SAT teams have been in operation in Las Vegas, Nevada since 2004. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) developed these teams because crime was getting out of hand in the city, and officers were inundated with calls for service. Officers are able to mobilize and enter an area and where they identify the main players in crime and remain there to interrupt and disrupt their criminal operations. They utilize any laws they can including traffic violations, abandoned cars, broken windows, drinking in public, and other offenses, to disrupt the pattern of crime. The teams develop an infrastructure that can be in place to assist the community when the officers leave the area.
Rather than utilizing senior officers, LVMPD utilizes junior officers who average 1.5 years on the force. These officers are extremely eager, bright, and fearless in willing to get in the face of criminals. They work 10-hour days, non-stop. They are knowledgeable about the laws they can utilize, and they work without complaint. Typically, officers work on a SAT for one year. "I'd love to have them for two years," says Lt. Chris Hoye who is in charge of the SAT teams. He acknowledges that these officers focus on making the job for regular patrol officers easier.
One SAT encompasses the Homeland Security Team that includes dignitary protection and the critical infrastructure which encompasses the downtown strip of Las Vegas, major tourist areas, and the airport. The officers on these teams inundate these areas. Smaller teams consist of two mobile crime SAT teams comprised of 16 officers on each team.
The officers comprising these teams appear in neighborhoods in large numbers, in uniform, and on foot. They work with residents and will tell people they are with Metro police and explain they are in the neighborhood to keep people safe. They develop rapport and gain the trust of residents who provide them intelligence enabling them to pursue the criminal element in the community. They have been successful in breaking up drug and white slavery rings, apprehending murder suspects, and those involved in kidnappings and home invasions. They have dealt with the entire gamut of crime, and the SATS have adopted their tactics to the sophisticated methods that criminals employ.
Similarly, the Milwaukee Police Department employs a number of proactive long-term strategies through the use of the Neighborhood Task Force (NTF) that Chief Edward Flynn initiated in June 2008. Bringing together the strengths from various units that include uniform officers from SWAT, the Horse-Mounted Unit, the Vice Unit, the Fugitive Apprehension Unit, the Gang/ Intelligence Unit, and the Motor Squad, these officers change the complexity of neighborhoods and, in turn, change crime to some degree. "We don't get dispatch calls for service," says Lt. Stephen Basting who leads the Neighborhood Task Force. The officers under his supervision are top-of-the-line-cops from each unit. He emphasizes that a major part of this effort is having the NTF working conjointly with the districts. They focus on culprits of jay walking, bike riders breaking laws, tinted windows, and other violations that frequently lead to big arrests.
The neighborhood is aware that the NTF is in their community, and Chief Flynn has actually held police roll call in the streets of high crime areas to show police presence and visibility. "Chief Flynn is very patrol-oriented. He wants cops on the street, and his focus is on making streets safer," says Lt. Basting. The efforts of the NTF have minimized victimization. The bad guys have been driven away with the message that criminality is not accepted in the community. "We know crime is down. We've made great arrests," says Lt. Basting.
"We're all in the neighborhood with back-up," adds Lt. Basting. On one day alone, during the day shift, the NTF dealt with a burglary, sexual assault of a child, an endangering safety arrest, a homicide, armed robbery, drugs in small amounts, and misdemeanor municipal warrants. "We're data driven and continually review data. We truly are making a difference in those neighborhoods. This is about positive police contacts as well as arrests. We're not activity driven." says Lt. Basting.
Likewise, in Alexandria, Virginia, proactive policing approaches are encouraged by Chief David Baker of the Alexandria Police Department. He utilizes the Residential Police Officer Program (RPO) and the Community Officer Project. Like other departments, the officers in these units do not respond to regular calls for service and are assigned full-time to communities and neighborhoods. Alexandria teamed up with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and police officers actually live in high crime areas in housing provided by the city. Computers and radios are provided to officers to have in their homes. The average cost per community is $270,000.00
The police presence in the community has developed greater respect and a better relationship with the police. Various community organizations supplement the cops who live there. Chief Baker says the officers in the community "act as if they are the chief of police for the neighborhood." The cops in these neighborhoods respond and resolve issues and, consequently, there is a dynamic between the police department and the community.
The city is divided into three geographic areas, and the strategic response is to focus on the location and drill down to the block level. Initially, some skepticism and trust issues existed, but it is important to remember these are troubled neighborhoods with high crime rates. The RPO and community officers changed the mix, and the community now sees the police - not just in bad times - but in both good and bad times.
"Organizationally, you have a mechanism that takes care of issues quickly. I don't hear from the community a lot," says Chief Baker. The officers get to know the people in the community and they become part of it. As a result, the community takes care of them, too. "It is a huge commitment from the police department and the city. It costs the city money," says Chief Baker. However, the strategies are obviously effective because in 2006 the city was at a 40-year low in crime and still remains within a 39-40 year low.
Similarly, in Prince George's County, Maryland where crime has been historically rampant, the Prince George's County Police Department's decentralized approached to crime fighting, through the utilization of Special Assignment Teams (SATs) that were established in 2004, has served to assist in sustaining a steady four-year decline in Part 1 and Part 2 offenses. The larger patrol districts have two SAT teams and the smaller districts have one. "The sergeants and officers selected by the District Commanders to serve on the SAT teams have demonstrated a passion for abating criminal activity via lawful, yet proactive, suppression techniques that rely heavily upon traffic stops and person stops in communities seized by street level criminals," says Major Kevin F. Davis. Like other departments who utilize similar strategies, the uniformed specialty patrol officers do not respond to routine calls for police service, and they are not dispatched to incidents. "They often, however, respond to scenes where fleeing suspects - on foot and in vehicles - are thought to remain in the vicinity and, thus, susceptible to capture by all-star cops with keen street level instincts," says Major Davis. These teams strive to relieve neighborhoods of robbery trends, burglary sprees, street level drug dealing, loitering complaints, disorder, and other quality of life concerns, and they act at the direction of their District Commander.
Innovative approaches, ambitious efforts, and the support of police chiefs for proactive policing in communities have demonstrated effective results in thwarting crime and reducing criminal victimization. The rewards have been great and have served to foster better relationships and enhanced communication between police and the community. Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Alexandria, and Prince George's County are successful models that have sent a strong message to street criminals that there will be consequences for their unlawful actions.