Thursday, June 7, 2012

The More Things Change . . .

Some of the best things are often hidden in the Register-Star. A case in point is a recent post on Francesca Olsen's blog, which shares an old Register-Star article from October 1998 entitled "Does Hudson need more cops on the beat?" [beginning; continuation]. The answer to the question posed by the title, from the merchants interviewed for the article, was a resounding yes. 

The response from Glenn Martin, who was then chief of police, to the call for more police on the street was sympathetic. He agreed that Hudson needed community policing, foot patrols, and a greater police presence in problem areas, but what could he do? According to Martin, the police department in 1998 was understaffed and underfunded. The article reported that, in 1998, there were 16 officers in the Hudson Police Department and the City spent about $34,000 on each officer, in salary and benefits. Martin complained that the HPD was losing officers to the sheriff's department and the state police, which offered higher pay. In 1998, the amount budgeted for the police department was $1,255,747.*

Fourteen years later, people are still calling for community policing, foot patrols, and a greater police presence in problem areas, but we don't seem to be any more successful at getting these things, even though the number of police officers has increased 62 percent (from 16 to 26), the amount of money budgeted for the police department has increased nearly 110 percent (from $1,255,747 to $2,625,832), the average compensation, in salary and benefits, is more than twice what Martin said it was in 1998 ($34,000 in 1998, $78,275 in 2011**), and the Hudson Police Department is now considered "one of the plum law enforcement jobs in the county." 

The reasons given for why community policing, foot patrols, and a greater police presence in problem areas were not possible in 1998 don't apply in 2012. So why are these goals still so difficult to achieve?
* In 1998, Hudson switched from using a May through April fiscal year in its accounting to using the calendar year. The budget consulted was for eight months, from May through December 1998. The amount budgeted for the police department in this eight month period was $837,165, which worked out to $1,255,747 for twelve months.
** The information about HPD salaries is from SeeThroughNY.  

1 comment:

  1. Along with co-author George Kelling, the late great social scientist James Q. Wilson gave us the "broken windows theory" of crime prevention. In places like Hudson the idea may depend too much on community participation to be effective, but it is at least a theory, an approach.

    From a recent essay in City Journal, Wilson's idea was to "focus on the small crimes, such as littering, and keeping neighborhoods clean and free of signs of disorder, such as broken windows in a building. The big idea was this: if the neighborhood looks as if someone is watching and maintaining order, it is far more likely that order will prevail. A neighborhood that is clean and well-ordered sends a signal to criminals and citizens alike."

    The broken windows theory works, but not only because residents take an interest in their own neighborhoods.

    The theory requires police enforcement of those smaller crimes (think plastic bags for dog waste), which encourages the return of foot patrols and personal knowledge about residents. There's also an obvious role for code enforcement where neighborhood standards have become lax.

    For more serious crimes, and where the situation warrants, the application of the Compstat system detects patterns in crime which may outpace police routines. Compstat is described in Wikipedia as a "management philosophy" for police departments, and directs immediate changes in otherwise predictable police habits.

    For example, 1st Ward drug dealing locations are never in any one place for very long, but they are usually there long enough for residents to detect patterns between the 3 or 4 customary locations. When a drug deal is reported to HPD dispatch, does the information go beyond the initial police response (which is always necessarily too late)? Are such patterns noticed by anyone other than residents? Is this information which a citizen may feel they took a risk to communicate immediately lost? It often feels that way.

    Put another way, does the HPD dabble in theories of any kind? For that matter does the citizenry appreciate theories of policing? I have absolutely no idea to either question, but shouldn't we find out? I only know that I'm now getting measurable results by intervening in drug dealing situations on my own, and not waiting for police assistance. I am putting my own theory into practice and I'm not charging myself a cent.

    If we're never going to see a return of foot patrols (apparently anathema in today's police academies), then one small improvement I'd like to see - and one which may someday save me while I'm out improving my seedy neighborhood - is for cops to leave their car windows down while they drive around. They should be able to hear citizens in distress, and right now they cannot.