Keeping Communities Safe

Dwight Evans has long recognized that pro-active, community-centered policing is an integral part of vibrant communities. In 1996, Dwight started pushing for Philadelphia to adopt New York’s pro-active, “broken windows” style of policing. Crime was dropping in New York, while in 1995, Philadelphia had experienced 432 murders. By the time a Daily News investigation showed that the Philadelphia police department had been drastically underreporting crime to the FBI, Dwight and other concerned legislators were holding town meetings with people like New York’s legendary former police commissioner William Bratton as featured speakers, resulting in Bratton’s hiring as a consultant, and former Bratton deputy John Timoney being named the new commissioner.

The federal government plays a major role in determining the kind of policing cities have across the country. It has subsidized and promoted the over-militarized approach to urban policing that has resulted in the counter-productive events in Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities in recent years. It is time, instead, that Congress support the kind of policing programs that both reduce crime and promote cities’ quality of life and economic growth:

Expand HUD’s “Cop Next Door” program. Create incentives for officers to live in higher crime areas so they will be a visible force, building relationships and partnerships with citizens, by expanding funding to bring HUD’s “Cop Next Door” program, subsidizing home purchases by officers in high-crime neighborhoods, to all cities.

Bring the Police to the people. We should continue to expand our neighborhood policing efforts by creating more police satellite offices, especially in high-crime neighborhoods. Satellite offices could be used by officers to meet with residents, do paperwork, and take meals; they can also provide a place for launching foot and bicycle patrols. Such offices can be small; some cities locate them in storefronts to increase visibility, others put them in schools. Baltimore has seen a reduction of up to 25 percent in calls for service once satellite offices have opened in communities. Residents and businesses report that simply having a police car there helps deter crime.

Providing Real Time Data to Police. A Domain Awareness System or “dashboard” is one example of cutting-edge crime-fighting technologies is a that can instantly link police officers with interactive neighborhood maps, footage from nearby security cameras, and enable inter-departmental cooperation where needed to access any other information relevant to a crime or emerging threat in real-time, as it occurs – all using existing sources of public data, without the need for new surveillance. In New York City, a Domain Awareness dashboard is available to police on their laptops, mobile devices, in their squad cars, and also provide access to the city’s arrest records, license plate readers, and 911 calls so that when an emergency call comes in, officers can quickly review prior calls from the same address – to help prepare them for the circumstances they may be facing.

Launching a Safe Place Initiative. No young person should feel that they cannot walk into a police station, fire station, community center or library if they feel they are in trouble. Within each of these places, a responsible adult should be available to contact someone (such as a youth worker or a parent) to assist the youth. Basic fundamental training and protocols could be provided fairly easily.

Establish City Gun Courts. The Philadelphia Gun Court was a seven-year experiment with a specialized court for illegal gun possession, established in 2005 in reaction to the high number of firearms violations and the 2004 death of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs in a cross fire outside his school in North Philadelphia. The court handled an estimated 800 defendants annually and featured mandatory treatment elements in addition to enhanced processing speed and intensive supervision protocols, with the ultimate goal of reducing aggregate levels of gun violence in Philadelphia.

Work with federal prosecutors to replicate approaches that get more of our most serious offenders off the street through tougher sentences. For instance, under Project Safe Neighborhoods, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, and federal law enforcement agencies are aggressively prosecuting gang members and organizations. Every state defendant charged with a gun-related offense is reviewed for possible federal prosecution. The program began in two Chicago Police districts and has grown to six. Similarly, Project Exile, in Richmond, Virginia, used federal prosecutors and special agents to help remove violent offenders from the streets prior to a homicide. During the first 10 months of the program, Richmond realized a 41 percent decline in murders involving the use of a firearm. As the program continued, program designers invested in a substantial public outreach campaign that educated citizens and criminals alike about the program and the promise of swift and certain punishment for unlawful possession of a firearm.

Work with the police department and community groups to implement innovative gun programs. It’s time Congress recognize that we can stand by the constitutional rights of gun owners yet still take commonsense measures to protect families from gun violence by, and against, juveniles. For instance, under St. Louis’ Consent to Search effort, police identified homes suspected of containing illegal guns belonging to juveniles and requested parental permission to search the premises. Consent was granted 98% of the time, and half the searches turned up firearms that were then taken away from these juveniles.

There’s no good reason why anyone should be storing or leaving guns where a minor is likely to gain access to it. There is no reason that guns cannot, like other consumer products like, say, Aspirin, contain safety features like safety locks for handguns, fingerprint recognition systems, and other measures to keep guns away from children and out of the hands of anyone other than responsible firearms owners. There is no reason we should seek stronger penalties against those who sell and distribute illegal guns to young people, or create safety zones around libraries, youth and daycare centers, public buildings, and schools. In a Congress that refuses even to allow research on the public health consequences of firearms violence, this may be a tough message to deliver – but Dwight Evans intends to deliver it.