22 FUTURE TRENDS IN POLICING Dr. George Kelling of Rutgers University, co-author of the landmark “broken windows” approach to policing, argues that new ways of thinking are needed about police response to calls for service. In Kelling’s view, scaling back the fast response of sworn officers to minor crime scenes should not be proposed as a budget-cutting strategy, but rather as a strategy to improve the effectiveness of policing. The more time that police officers spend responding to minor theft calls, the less time they have available for effective, pro-active initiatives such as problem solving, he explained. And rushing to crime scenes when a fast response is not needed is wasteful. “It’s a real challenge. When we don’t respond to certain calls, we do lose an opportunity. These types of calls are our bread and butter interactions with the community. But I think there are other ways to interact with the community more efficiently.” —Chris Moore, Chief San Jose, California, Police Department “We have to de-market 911 and make people understand that 911 is a low payoff strategy,” Kelling said. “This doesn’t mean I think the police should never rush to a scene. At times they should rush. But we should not withhold police services—we should not de-police city streets—in the name of rapid response times.” Unfortunately, rapid response to 911 calls is “a bad idea that is intuitively reasonable” to the public, Kelling said. Residents of a community tend to think they have an excellent police department if officers respond within minutes to any type of call, no matter how minor. “So we must be especially clever in developing arguments that will convince the general public that it is not a good idea to send cars constantly, repeatedly, to calls that we know will not make any difference,” Kelling said. Chief Scott Thomson of the Camden Police Department can attest to the increased efficiency experienced by implementing this strategy. His department faced a massive challenge when he lost approximately half his police force due to city budget cuts. (Later, the city police department was replaced by a new county agency with increased funding and staffing.) Faced with the need to make sharp, immediate cuts, Thomson made a number of major changes, including altering how the department responds to calls for service: “After our decrease in personnel, there were things we could no longer do. By cutting some services, we could focus on doing critical functions more efficiently and more effectively. Specifically, we stopped responding to property crimes unless they were in-progress or there were other pressing safety concerns. There wasn’t a tremendous pushback from the community when we did that, because we got them on board with it before implementation.
Implementing Strategies to Increase Efficiency 23 As a result of the changes, we were able to cut our response times to priority-one calls in half, even with only half of our police department. That’s also because we were utilizing technology, but it’s mostly attributable to not burdening our officers with going to every single call for service. We ended the age-old guarantee that we will send a cop to EVERY call.” The San Jose Police Department also experienced a reduction in force, which caused the department to reevaluate how it responded to calls. “We found that burglar alarm calls without verification were our second most common type of call, and 98 percent of them were false alarms,” Chief Chris Moore said. He decided that responding to unverified alarm calls was not a good use of department resources. “You can’t make these decisions lightly, but you have to prioritize,” Moore said. In some cities, residents reporting relatively minor crimes are directed to file a crime report online, rather than having an officer respond to the scene and taking a report. This can ensure that the crime is recorded for purposes of calculating crime rates, without requiring an officer to spend time taking down information that the victim can provide directly. And the computerized system can generate a crime report number that victims can provide to their insurance companies. Some police chiefs have pointed out that many people are accustomed to doing things online, such as shopping, banking, and paying bills. For some people, filing a crime report online about a minor offense is easier than calling police and waiting for an officer to respond and take a report manually. Police departments increasingly are placing “Report a Crime” buttons on their homepages for this purpose. Moore said that if you maintain communication with residents about these types of changes in police services, “Most people understand that there are ways to get them the information they need from police online, quickly and accurately.” At PERF’s Summit, several chiefs expressed concerns about scaling back the police response to residents. Chief Michael Davis of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, acknowledged that in some places, informal social controls have atrophied, so citizens become over-reliant on the police. “Most of our calls have nothing to do with reportable crime, which indicates an overreliance on the police,” he said. But Davis said he thinks responding to these calls is important because the police response is an opportunity to build trust with the community.