March 31, 1999 By Raymond Dussault
Some may have warrants, some may be on parole and you can get them for hanging out with known offenders. If they say they have no ID, you take them in until you know who they are. If you check them out and they are not on parole or have no wants or warrants, you give them the ticket for drinking in public and let them go on. But maybe out of 10 you find five with various violations. Then you take those five in to be debriefed by detectives. These are your off-duty crooks; you can get on to other crimes and accomplices. It is like pulling a loose thread on a sweater -- you can unravel a major crime from these quality-of-life crimes.
This works in the rougher neighborhoods well. It is one strategy. There is no single strategy that works for all. You have to use a variety of strategies, but when cops do this, they can see why they are doing what they are doing and how it fits into the patterns of crimes.
Q: You have said you think mapping makes policing more egalitarian. What do you mean?
A: In the old way of policing, the poor people got [underserved], but maps don't know the difference between a poor person and a rich person. The dots are the same size regardless. A robbery is a robbery. Those 10 dots tell you where to put your cops. The dots don't say, "This affected Donald Trump; it's a press case." That is one beauty of mapping.
If you go by the maps, you see where the crime is and you deploy there. That crime goes down. Then those people that need the help the most get the best service.
Q: How important is it to get the information out to the public as well as the cops?
A: It is imperative. In New Orleans, where they had the biggest crime decline in 1996, in murder, rapes, robberies and assaults, of any city in the nation. It went down again in 1997 and 1998.
It is very important to get that information out to the public. Newspapers should print the maps every day. The community has a right to use crime stats to make decisions on how they get home from work, where they are going to live, where their kids are going to play. It also gives them the knowledge they need to help law enforcement and to hold law enforcement accountable. They have a right to know what the solve rate is. That is why [New Orleans Police] Chief Richard Pennington puts all his solved rates up -- he knows that sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Q: What is the next step? What is the future for COMSTAT?
A: This should not be limited to the police department. It should involve every city agency, the fire department, the building department, the transportation department; everybody should be contributing and coordinating. And other law enforcement agencies need to participate fully. The FBI, DEA and ATF offices in a city should be running their own numbers and then bringing those to COMSTAT meetings at the police department.
Q: Of course, now we are back to those traditional turf issues, right?
A: Yes. That's why the chief needs to be out there schmoozing them. Then, if needed, twist their arms. There are children dying in the streets because law enforcement agencies don't want to get along. This is obscene.
Justice and Technology Editor Ray Dussault is also a research director for the Law Enforcement Technology Acquisition Project. Email
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