Author’s note: After the grim and disheartening recent days in Baltimore, there is hope. There are cities that once faced the same climate we are seeing in Baltimore today that are now making strides and developing programs that are saving lives and transforming the relationships between the police and those they police — a move from a volatile combination of resentment and violence to one of authentic collaboration and caring. Watts serves as a shining example.
“It’s not been a change. It’s a transformation. I grew up in Watts. I got jumped into a gang when I was 13. Only way I could get to school safely. Otherwise I got beat up every day. We hated the cops. Man, nobody talked to the cops. Nobody trusted the cops. If you talked to the cops you could get hurt. Sold drugs. Did time in prison, and now…? Well just let me say it this way: “I’ve never seen moms and grandmothers sitting on their front steps waving to cops. They do now in Watts. I’ve never seen kids running up to cops to get a hug. Happens all the time. And guess what: I have a say in helping to hire these cops!”
So spoke Michael Cummings, Executive Director of We Care Outreach Ministries at a breakout session I ran for the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 28th. Michael, who also co-facilitates the Children’s Institute Project Fatherhood, and who helped organize the Safe Passage Haven program for Jordan High School, plays a key role in the Advancement Project’s remarkable “Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts.” Things haven’t changed in the three target housing projects –Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts –they’ve been transformed. Cummings reports a dramatic drop in homicides, in some areas zero homicide, zero – in this, one of the most violent pieces of real estate in the nation. http://advancementprojectca.org.
“The cops stay with us for five years, and they get two stripes. They don’t get the stripes if they don’t stay. Yes they arrest. But they are really part of us in the community. They help coach the Watts Bears. They take the kids to the Clippers’ and Dodgers’ games. They’re on the ground. They’ve even helped with providing food in emergencies, and helping kids get jobs.
The Advancement’s relationship-based policing, called “the Community Safety Partnership” (CSP) “imagines a new way of operating for the police where their legitimacy in the community is built on procedural justice, authentic relationships with community members, and sustained commitment to improve the health and well-being of the community, not just a focus on crime statistics.” (“Relationship-Based Policing,” p.2; see Advancement’s web link, supra). CSP has targeted Watts highest crime areas, areas “plagued” by other issues –poor school retention, unemployment, few usable green spaces, limited access to healthy foods and chronic mistrust ( see Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Program, Community Safety Partnership and Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts).
LAPD’s Chief of Police Charlie Beck, partnering with former Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) CEO Rudy Montreal and the Advancement Project, established CSP. CSP vision stresses both “safety” and “peace” along with “long-term community development,” and “a healthy quality of life.” (p.4). It would do this through a combination of support programs and “the presence and sustainable relationships between LAPD officers, residents, and other community leaders” (ibid). Safety and relationships with law enforcement are conjoined with community capacity development.
To ensure sustainability and to avoid being viewed as just another program or short term initiative, CSP planners, who intended that CSP be seen not as “an isolated tactic of a few officers, but an established practice endorsed by the highest ranks of LAPD,” (p. 7), carefully screened and selected 35 officers out of 400 applicants. CSP officers received promotions, were rigorously trained with 25 community stakeholders, and, in order to forge lasting relationships in a notoriously mistrusting community, pledged to a five year commitment. Promotions and raises (“incentive structures”) are not solely based on traditional enforcement measures such as an increase in arrests, but on other measures such as diversion of youthful offenders and helping students travel safely to school. “These new cops had to get to know the community,” said Cummings. “We showed them around. We had lunch with community leaders. Took them to schools and had them meet with the principals and teachers. Yeah, they have to help us keep the crime down, but now that they know us, they’re worried about us, how we’re doing, helping kids have a good future.”
Advancement’s 2012 report (see Advancement’s web site), “A Call to Action: Los Angeles’ Quest Toward Community Safety,” concludes that CSP has been instrumental in:
- Reducing violent crime by more than 50% in three Watts housing developments
- Notable decreases in gang membership and activity
- Plummeting homicide rates
CSP is seen as the first step in a $1billion effort to redevelop the housing developments via mixed-income homes, stores and parks, support of construction jobs and newly-created small businesses.
The overly militarized “warrior” culture of policing will change. Officers, with the community, will eventually be seen as co-producers of safety. If found guilty, officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston and other cities must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Race-biased, culturally insensitive policing must end. But the most good that can emerge from events claiming headlines daily, is not just a change in the ethos of policing in America, but that the public will see and act upon the real issues, now glaringly evident, seethingly evident in cities across the nation –issues of unemployment, poor schools, families with no fathers, absence of jobs paying livable wages, lack of neighborhood cohesion and mutual support, chronic exposure to violence, the obscene availability of guns, sub-standard housing and hopelessness.
These should be the lessons we all learn from the grim events in Baltimore and the hope in Watts.