Sunday, August 9, 2009

A model police chief?

The LA Times has an interesting editorial in the wake of William Bratton's retirement. William Bratton was the police chief who turned around the LAPD after similarly turning around departments in Boston and New York. He's leaving LAPD to do private consulting.

What I find most interesting is the LA Times description of Bratton's leadership model:
It once was accepted wisdom that this city, like others, had to choose between two types of policing: one that was aggressive and brutal, trampling on the rights of suspects and bystanders, alienating communities, especially the poor and nonwhite, while cracking down on crime; or one that was restrained on the street, respectful of civil rights and human dignity but weak on crime. Bratton showedthat the city didn't have to make that choice. He demonstrated that effective policing demanded officers with the best equipment, the most up-to-date training, capable administration, respect for the communities they serve and an unswerving commitment to ridding the streets of crime....
APD Chief Pennington needs to see this contrasting vision of what a police chief, and a police department, can be. Pennington's editorial in todays AJC makes some good points, but it feels as though Pennington only felt it necessary to respond when the public pressure on him got so strong he had to say something. Well, and after a celebrity got killed and a councilman got robbed. It all reads as a very personal response:
We have enough resources. We have added more than 300 police officers during my time here. When I arrived in 2002, I had one police officer for every 35 violent and property crimes committed that year. Now I have one police officer for every 26 of those crimes committed. That 30 percent improvement is entirely due to the city’s commitment to give us the resources we need.

During my term, we have reinvented policing in the city. We implemented all of the recommendations of the turnaround plan of Linder & Associates. We built a crime-mapping tool that tracks crime geographically and helps us concentrate resources. We redesigned our beats and instituted foot patrols for the first time in 30 years. We have new police vehicles, facilities and a state-of-the-art 911 call center. A new Atlanta Police Foundation advocates for the department and attracts private funding. We have created Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch groups.

Since I joined the force crime is down 25 percent. Where is the chief? Working hard for you and employing 30-plus years of professional training and experience on the job.
Here is the thing, Pennington - it isn't about you. Never has been. It is about people not feeling safe in their homes or when they go out at night. The chief's job is to serve the public and to be present to instill confidence and calm during crisis. In the absence of actual leadership, Pennington gets defensive and trenches in. Compare with LA's Bratton:
Each shooting, each clash was serious and raised tensions in the city, as they had under previous chiefs. The difference is that under Bratton the tensions dissipated, in large part because the chief made it clear that he took anger and outrage seriously, that while he backed his officers, he was willing to question their actions, training and command, and that he was intent on making sure the same mistakes never happened again.
What a novel approach....

Pennington makes some great points about how crime is actually down statistically, so I'm trying to reconcile that with all the stories of friends who are getting shot and robbed. I'll hopefully have some data analysis on how various types of crime have changed in different areas of the city over the last five years or so. El hermano is a data minkey (a chimpanzee data minkey) and is helping me slice and dice the data, but that also means I have to wait for when he is free.

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