New York Police Department officers from Queens North bring Christmas cheer to residents on Dec. 14, 2019. (NYPD photo)

PERSPECTIVE: Resurrect Community Policing Tailored to Today’s Challenges

It seems that we can no longer get through a full week without the next unthinkable act occurring someplace in the Unites States. In addition, law enforcement has absorbed what seems to be an increasing number of casualties which further increases that sense of unease for those who protect that thin blue line.

Some citizens have become suspicious of the police because of various well-publicized and politicized incidents, and the ensuing political agenda driven from those events. Considering the recent assassinations and murders of police officers, rightly or wrongly the police get more and more suspicious of the public. The result often involves a deep divide between the citizens and the police that have been sworn to protect them. Communication between the police and the community becomes further frayed and eroded.

It is easy for the media, which now covers these violent and tragic events wall to wall, to point the finger at the proliferation of guns on the street. There is also an obvious serious problem with the mental healthcare in this country as well, which is also given media attention. All this intense media coverage of these violent events draws the attention of the general public and ultimately the political machine on both sides of the issue.

There are valid points to be made no matter what side of those arguments any of us take. Lines are drawn on both sides of the gun and mental illness argument and the result is a further increase in polarization, while very few real solutions are offered or become public policy. These are arguments for another day. The reality is there will always be guns on the street. There will always be the severely mentally ill walking around our society, undetected to the average citizen going about living their daily lives. There will also be those who, for reasons that are frequently difficult for us to understand, are bent on creating violence and terrorism in the name of religion or some ideology. There will also continue to be violent criminals walking among us who are only concerned with themselves and feeding their own motivations or desires and do not care the human cost they may inflict on any of us or our loved ones. Every cop on the street knows that additional gun laws will not take guns out of the hands of those who have evil intent. Newly established laws only take guns out of the hands of citizens who, other than an occasional speeding citation, obey the law and the rules of society.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to policing the streets of this country, whether as a federal agent, state trooper, county police officer, city police officer, sheriff’s deputy, or small-town or community police officer, know that the media focuses on the symptoms and not the causes. Getting into the weeds to discuss or work on the real issues does not produce enough sound bites and does not make a sensational argument to the media that captivates the public or those on a side of the political fence. Real causes and real solutions to a multi-faceted violence problem in this country are not simple and just not sexy enough to draw the attention of the media and our political leadership. What every cop who works the street needs is more tools in their tool bag to try to get ahead of these violent acts and have any real chance to stop them.

The active-shooter response that every agency now employs and trains for has made a significant impact in reacting quickly and cutting down on causalities when one of these incidents occurs. Law enforcement is chock-full of fearless warriors who have no problem laying their lives on the line at a moment’s notice. They do it every day and will continue to do that long into the future. After all, that is what law enforcement does. It is part of the DNA. But what if we have the chance to stop or interrupt these hideous crimes before they ever have a chance to hatch?

It is foolish to believe that we can ever stop all these incidents from happening. However, it is also not in the nature of law enforcement to simply throw up our hands and surrender. Perhaps we need to look deep into our tool bag and dust off some simple, tried, and true tools and take a fresh look at putting them to use in a meaningful and productive way.

The tool that I am talking about is the old community policing concept. Over the years it has gone by many names and there have been many acronyms used such as neighborhood watch and an entire host of programs, including DARE and other initiatives directed at informing and educating the public we are all sworn to protect. However, hanging a neighborhood watch sign at the entrance of every community does not cut it. The program must be active and useful or it is a waste of everybody’s time.

Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at these old programs in an effort to bring the community and the business community on board in a meaningful way with the idea of gathering useful and actionable intelligence to get ahead of these incidents and the criminals and terrorists who perpetrate these dramatic and tragic crime events.

During the tragic event in New Jersey recently that cost the life of a police detective and killed and wounded several other citizens is a perfect example of how I believe that law enforcement can do better to get in front of these incidents. I am in no way criticizing the police department and the heroes who acted with exceptional skill and bravery to bring the incident under control as quickly as possible.

Watching the coverage of this horrible incident in New Jersey I saw an interview that was conducted by the media while the event was still unfolding. The lady interviewed, who was obviously part of the community, seemed to know or at least had a very good idea who they were, and why that community grocery store was targeted. She did not indicate with any detail during the interview what she meant. However, in the aftermath it became obvious that this was more than a random event.

What that tells me is there was unease in the community that she, and most likely a lot of the residents, were aware of. I am also sure that the street cops working the area also had a sense of the tension building. With these events on the rise and likely to continue, it is extremely important that the police tap into this vast wealth of intelligence that exits out there in our communities no matter what the size. It is no longer enough for the police to know or have an idea that there is unease. The intelligence must be harvested from both the police officers on the street and the community and developed into actionable intelligence to try to get ahead of these incidents and stop it before it ever gets to a violent tragic event.

How do we do that? The answer is communication between the police and the community. It cannot be one-way communication; it must go both ways. With communication comes trust. With trust solutions can be found. We have heard a lot lately about quid pro quo: In this case there must be quid pro quo, or any community police effort will fall on deaf ears. I will discuss how this can work in additional articles.

The views expressed here are the writers’ and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers."

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