Why good policing won't work today
Chavez spent 22 years at APD. He retired in 2006 as deputy chief of the Field Services Bureau.
– Every police action is now viewed through the lens of racial or cultural identities. Any enforcement action taken in those challenged neighborhoods will be perceived as targeting communities of color or picking on minorities.
– But guess what? Residents of crime-ridden neighborhoods hate the thugs and the crime.
– I truly believe that there is a silent majority out there that wants to see their officers tackling crime in a proactive manner. But their voices have been silenced because one can hardly say anything positive about the police without being accused of being a racist or a thug.
-- Nowadays, a friendly pat on the back from an officer is viewed as a use of force.
Having known Dan Klein for more than 30 years, and agreeing with him maybe twice, no, I think it was just once, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with some of the good, though impractical ideas he put forth in his last few invectives on APD. Normally, and this could just be the 500 lunches he owes me speaking, I’m of the opinion that most points he makes about anything are about as valid as he is tall.
Being a seasoned leader in law enforcement, Chief Polisar’s recent letter to ABQReport had many excellent and common-sense ideas on what APD needs as well. As valid as these ideas are, here’s why they won’t work.
I have great respect for Chief Polisar, and some for Danny, but I believe the two are missing a key component to returning our department to what it was once and cannot be again – at least in this environment.
By way of illustrating that, I will give you an example of something APD did in 2004 when I was the deputy chief of the Field Services Bureau. Last year the city of Albuquerque had 76 homicides as compared to 41 in 2004—an 85 percent increase (the population of Albuquerque was about 90,000 shy of what it is today). Albuquerque’s violent crime rate (per 100,000 population) was 40 percent lower than it is today.
We had the freedom to utilize tools that are no longer available in today’s policing. Polisar is right. Police tactics developed from the Broken Windows Theory work. In 2003-2004 we established what was known as Project Nemesis. Frustrated with the revolving door at the jail, and knowing that the 80 percent that Polisar spoke of are the same knuckleheads waltzing through our jails, most of them being members of a gang, we decided to focus on them. Nemesis’ goal was to make life so absolutely miserable for gang members that we ran them from area command to area command and eventually out of the city. We decided that a successful metric would be displacement. Not what you usually want in a measure of success in a police intervention, but we knew that true success could only happen if New Mexico’s judicial system started to act like the rest of America where committing a crime resulted in punishment instead of our state’s habit of releasing bad guys with a cookie and an apology.
The basis of Nemesis was enforcing order maintenance crimes – the Broken Windows Theory. Working with neighborhood leaders, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders who gave us the targets, we enforced all laws (small & big, but mostly small) that we saw and that neighbors lived with. All enforcement was within constitutional boundaries that would even work today to make sure legally, that the negative elements (read gangs) were not welcome in a particular neighborhood. So they would move on to new neighborhoods only to be welcomed with the same enforcement.
How did we know that Nemesis worked? We didn’t, for sure. Unfortunately, the ability to accurately determine the success of any police intervention takes time, and time is the one thing that most administrations, especially in this town, don’t have. The ridiculous way that we give mayors sole authority over who becomes chief and then let them (mayors) spend 4-to-8 years interfering, basically ensures that no one chief can ever make things work. But we did have some anecdotal proof that it was working. I took calls from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department, the town of Bernalillo and the village of Los Lunas, all wanting to know why they had such an increase in gang activity and asking for our help. I also had a conversation with an informant from about 15 years prior, out of the game and raising his own children to be good little gang members, wanting to know why we were making life so miserable for everybody.
So why couldn’t Project Nemesis work today? Because every police action is now viewed through the lens of racial or cultural identities. Any enforcement action taken in those challenged neighborhoods will be perceived as targeting communities of color or picking on minorities. As a lieutenant in Narcotics, as an Area Commander and as a Deputy Chief of the Field, I took hundreds, if not thousands, of citizen complaints about everything from gang activity to drug trafficking to shootings to graffiti to drunken brawls. And you know who was lodging those complaints? People who live in those neighborhoods and who were of the same race or ethnicity as the people they were complaining about.
I’m sure that dynamic hasn’t changed, but with the magnifying glass on every police action and the multiple hours that officers now must spend documenting even a friendly pat on the back as a use of force, the voices of the people wanting to see better neighborhoods has been silenced and officers’ will to proactivity has been diminished to the point of paralysis.
I truly believe that there is a silent majority out there that wants to see their officers tackling crime in a proactive manner. But their voices have been silenced because one can hardly say anything positive about the police without being accused of being a racist or a thug.
This is a horrible situation for our nation’s police officers, and I admire and support the men and women out there risking their lives for an ungrateful nation.
So Danny and Chief: your ideas are excellent and welcome. Just don’t expect the vocal minority, whose voices are the only that are allowed to be heard, and the only opinions that seem to matter anymore, to embrace them.