Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Community policing remains out of reach

Posted By on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, has practiced law for more than 30 years. Prior to entering law school, Curry served in the U.S. Army and worked as a reporter for the Indianapolis News.
  • Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, has practiced law for more than 30 years. Prior to entering law school, Curry served in the U.S. Army and worked as a reporter for the Indianapolis News.
What if there were a policing and prosecution model with a proven track record to improve public safety? Would the public clamor for implementation of such model?

As defined by the U.S. Justice Department, community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

That's the academic definition. What it essentially means is that you know the names of officers in your neighborhood, and they know you.

In Marion County and other communities, the inability to fully implement a community policing model is not an absence of resolve, but instead the stark reality that we have insufficient staffing and resources to do so. Community policing is the poster child for the negative effect of the misguided and dead-end notion that we can continue to fund government services by forcing agencies to annually cut their budgets.

As a corollary to community policing, the Marion County Prosecutor's Office is committed to being embedded in our neighborhoods through our Community Prosecution Division. Deputy prosecutors and paralegals daily work side-by-side with IMPD district detectives and officers, as well as with Speedway, Beech Grove, and Lawrence police departments. Our staff members also interact with neighborhoods to consider proactive, problem-solving approaches to problematic issues. A 2012 University of Chicago Law School study found that community prosecution strategies reduced certain categories of crime, specifically assaults, robberies, burglaries, and vandalism.

Community policing is an effective public safety strategy. An IMPD pilot initiative in 2011 utilizing such strategies and implemented in the IMPD North District demonstrated its effectiveness. Dubbed EPIC (Education, Prevention, Intervention, and Community Collaboration), it targeted open air drug dealing, drug usage, street fighting, shootings, and other quality of life issues. The program had demonstrably positive results, including substantial reduction in open air drug dealing, significant increase in contacts with residents of the targeted neighborhoods, and removal of dozens of guns off the streets.

The unfortunate reality is that we are incapable of implementing a comprehensive community policing model when we barely have sufficient officers to patrol wide swatches of the county. Our officers barely have enough time to respond to daily routine runs, let alone have meaningful interaction with the residents of their patrol areas.

In an open letter in August, I shared my opinion with Mayor Ballard and the City-Council that our public safety agencies, and in particular IMPD, are woefully understaffed. The Mayor and Council subsequently reached agreement to fund police recruit classes of 90 officers in 2013 and 2014. However, we must realize that those recruit classes will only keep IMPD at current staffing levels after anticipated attrition through retirement and other loss of existing officers.

I must sound like a broken record as I repeat the same message at neighborhood associations, churches, and other groups: We as a community must have a serious discussion about how we fund government services in general and public safety in particular.

The ultimate opposing conclusions of such debate are abundantly clear. Will we be satisfied with a band-aid approach to public safety? Or do we adequately fund our public safety agencies so that we have the opportunity to utilize comprehensive police and prosecution models?

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