Op-Ed: Big Bang for LA’s crime and security buck

Op-Ed: Big Bang for LA’s crime and security buck

  • US News
  • December 11, 2022
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While Rolex was being snatched from wealthy wrists in broad daylight, politicians of all stripes raced around worried voters in the recent election with promises to hire more cops. If it just could be that easy.

Police numbers are important up to a point. More police presence is needed for a temporary drop in street crime in the relatively safe areas where wristwatches are stolen. But what is far more important to everyone’s long-term security is a sustained reduction in violence and greater security in the “hot zones” – areas with chronically high crime poverty.

Former Los Angeles Police Commissioner William J. Bratton warned against not focusing on these hot zones when he said in his “plan of action” for the LAPD that too many Angelenos “in ‘safe’ neighborhoods… mistakenly believe.” [violence] … can be restricted to certain parts of the city.”

Just adding cops increases Hot Zone containment, but it doesn’t add to Hot Zone security. That requires much smarter coalition strategies and investments.

Economists from New York University measured the impact of police force growth in 242 cities between 1981 and 2018 and calculated from this data that an average city needed between 10 and 17 new police officers at a cost of $1.3 to $2.2 million hire to save one life per year and reduce other serious crimes.

NYU researcher Morgan Williams, in an interview with National Public Radio, warned that adding officers to average-sized cities with smaller black populations “brings good value for money.” But in large cities with the largest African American populations, the addition of the police failed to lower homicide rates and increase black arrest rates for petty crimes.

Williams concluded, “We get a lot of policing, but it may not always be the type of policing that keeps people safe.”

Especially in poor neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Increasing security where most violent crime occurs requires well-funded coalitions implementing strategies that go well beyond crackdown on the book and the hook. Properly executed, these “all hands on deck” alternatives to paramilitary policing employ teams of specially trained residents and experts in gang intervention and prevention in a coordinated effort involving government, local institutions, non-profit organizations, schools and the police. Together they strive to reduce trauma and violence, build trusting partnerships and create healthier neighborhoods that stabilize violence and solve problems that cause crime.

This “root causes” approach has a much greater positive effect than simply adding more police.

Research teams from Cal State LA, USC and UCLA evaluated aspects of holistic strategies in Los Angeles and found that they had a measurable impact in their defined areas of practice.

Professional gang interventionists, at a fraction of the cost of police, worked with community members and specially trained officers to achieve a 97% reduction in gang retaliations and a 77% reduction in gang retaliations in two years. The researchers estimated that 185 violent gang crimes were prevented over that two-year period, resulting in a citywide savings of $110 million.

Another study found that professional gang prevention services reduced participants’ risk of joining a gang by 83% and reduced antisocial tendencies by 71%.

And yet another study, looking at data over six years and also conducting qualitative research, found that the specially trained officers from the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership, along with civilian and other government colleagues, saved the city more than $90 million in tangible and intangible costs two CSP sites. The teams also improved residents’ sense of security, increased residents’ trust in officers, achieved greater crime reductions than other neighborhoods, and prevented the spread of violent crime, the data showed. And these gains have come with fewer arrests and less police use of force compared to non-CSP locations.

Notably, these CSP successes have continued during the pandemic, despite increases in violent crime across the country. According to LAPD Deputy Chief Emada Tingirides, director of the Community Safety Partnership Bureau, data from all 10 partnership sites show that residents and police achieved a 75% reduction in homicides and a 10.8% reduction in serious assaults in 2022.

These holistic strategies are imperfect and neither easy nor cheap to implement in traditional enforcer-culture police departments. But the return on investment exceeds the cost, and combined efforts can finally deliver what the Christopher Commission, organized in the wake of the Rodney King beating, demanded for Los Angeles more than 30 years ago: true community policing.

The size of a police force is not irrelevant when it comes to fighting crime, but we’ll get more bang for the buck as we expand by spending our dollars on neighborhood teams made up of community partners, CSP-trained officers, and experts who can implement holistic safety plans in heat zones. New recruits must be carefully screened to weed out bias, political extremism and those who lack the humanistic temperament for coalition and community-based policing, and experienced officers must shed their resistance to change and unwillingness to share control.

As we add officers to the LAPD, we want to strengthen the department’s commitment to public trust, reinvigorate its reform efforts, and focus our investments on Community Safety Partnership teams.

We know what works. We just have to put our heart and soul into it.

Connie Rice, a former member of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, is a civil rights attorney and author of Power Concedes Nothing.

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