Depending on where you live, work and shop, you may have noticed something different in recent months during your daily commute or trip to the market. Since spring, 17 officers have been assigned to foot, bike and squad patrols on a newly created Northside beat. This increased police presence is designed to deter crime while helping officers become more familiar with neighborhoods on a block-by-block basis.
According to Tim Hammett, a crime prevention specialist for the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) in the city’s Fourth Precinct, this is but one aspect of MPD efforts to implement community-oriented policing initiatives on the Northside. A community-oriented approach to policing involves establishing collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and the people, organizations and businesses in a designated area.
“The beat officers are tasked with getting to know the neighborhoods they serve more closely and developing relationships with the people in those communities,” says Hammett. “Their mission is to provide a presence on the street and get to know the residents and business owners who live and work there. By doing that they obviously become more knowledgeable about the local scene and are better able to carry out the enforcement function because they simply know more about the neighborhood and who’s who by virtue of community connections.”
Additional officers are currently assigned to some of the major corridors, like Lyndale, Penn and West Broadway Avenues, but they go out into the more residential areas as well. In addition, a specialized community response team within the Fourth Precinct responds to residents’ needs. These specialized police units typically address livability crimes such as street-level narcotics dealing and prostitution.
The concept of community-oriented policing came into prominence in the 1970s following a period in which law enforcement was viewed to have been alienated from the general public. High-profile clashes between officers and citizens contributed to the sense that policing had become too reactive with justice being doled out by officers of the law who were not a part of communities served, but isolated from them.
While change has not been immediate, the notion that policing should be done with the active collaboration of neighborhood stakeholders has taken root in communities throughout the United States. Initiatives have been implemented in large urban areas and small towns alike, spurred in part by grants provided by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which is an office of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In many ways, community-oriented policing incorporates a back-to-basics approach that was commonly seen in past, one in which officers made the rounds in a community so that people knew the police and police knew the people. In the intervening years, law enforcement has benefited from a rapid influx of technological tools that have helped efforts to fight crime in some respects, but hurt in other ways.
Hammett notes that the city has rolled out all kinds of technology initiatives in the effort to cut crime on the Northside, including ShotSpotter, surveillance cameras on West Broadway and electronic monitoring at a strategic information center. He notes that these are important tools for protecting the public, but that relationship building in the community also has a role to play. “I think the idea is to combine those two in the most effective way possible, utilizing the available technology while going back to the basics of community policing.”
Hammett is integrally involved in the MPD’s community-oriented policing efforts. As a crime prevention specialist involved in the city’s SAFE program, he is continually going out and building relationships with community members, organizing effective crime prevention groups in the form of block clubs and facilitating communication between city residents and police.
As part of its community-oriented policing techniques the MPD has been able to establish partnerships with many Northside groups and organizations, including Project Lookout, MAD DADS and the West Broadway Business Association. Law enforcement officials also collaborate with each of the neighborhood associations, either directly with the board of these organizations or crime and safety committees within groups. Such partners can be helpful in disseminating information and establishing connections in the community that otherwise might not be made.
Hammett sees opportunity in these relationships. “Law enforcement agencies should be in tune with and understand the communities in which they work and have positive relationships with the people in the communities that they serve,” he says. “Doing this facilitates a flow of information and makes for a healthier law enforcement environment all around.”
“Officers who are familiar with the communities in which they work and the people in those communities are so important,” Hammett emphasized, “because it builds trust between the community and the police, and also makes police much more informed and able to predict where problems may occur and take preventive measures that can stop crime in the first place.”