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  Crime and Policing Issues in Richmond-Moving Into 2011
January 18, 2011

From: Chris Magnus [mailto:cmagnus@richmondpd.net]
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the National Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, which is a project sponsored the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Criminal Justice Policy and Management Program at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.  This was a great way to start my 6th year as Police Chief in Richmond and a good time to reflect on our progress and direction as a police agency.
I was invited to be part of this three day event along with a group of some of the most innovative thinkers in the criminal justice field, including a select group of highly regarded academic researchers, various major city police chiefs, the presidents of some of the biggest police labor unions in the country, and the directors of a number of federal agencies who set national policy on many key criminal justice issues.
To prepare for this Executive Session, I was provided with a 1” thick folder of research papers, scholarly articles, and analysis of critical policing issues on topics such as “The Changing Environment of Policing,” “Making Policing More Affordable—Measuring Costs and Measuring Value in Policing,” “Police Professionalism,” and “Moving the Work of Criminal Investigators Towards Crime Control.”
The articles I was expected to read and the focus of the working groups I was part of seemed a bit intimidating, but the chance to interact with the leaders and shapers of the police profession was very exciting.  We had full days during the session that included policy presentations and debates followed by smaller discussion groups that each of us was assigned to.  These groups analyzed a wide range of criminal justice issues and developed recommendations for further research and study.
Although the participants in this Executive Session were from cities all around the country (a few even came from as far away as Singapore, Australia, and England), there were a surprising number of common themes and issues that came up in our discussions.
Richmond and other California cities can certainly appreciate the challenges of reducing crime with fewer resources, engaging police officers and community members in doing the most effective kinds of problem-solving, dealing with the re-entry of a large prison population returning to our communities, implementing violent crime and gang intervention best practices such as “Project Ceasefire” (currently being initiated in our city), and addressing the issue of whether police are perceived to have legitimacy in their use of power and authority by members of the community.
To help us think through these and other issues, some of the most brilliant minds in the fields of criminology and political science joined us for the Executive Session, including Sociology Professor George Kelling (who developed the “Broken Windows Theory,” which helped police officers and others understand that through deterring petty crime—such as vandalism and other low-level anti-social behavior—major crime can be prevented) and Political Science Professor James Q. Wilson—known for his breakthrough books, Thinking About Crime and Varieties of Police Behavior
I came away from the discussions I was part of with a better understanding of  many concepts, practices, ideas, and programs that are very relevant to our efforts here in Richmond for reducing crime, engaging the community more effectively, developing and deploying our officers better, and meeting future public safety challenges.
Some key topics that stuck in my mind included:

  • Assuring the ongoing professional development of our police officers, including leadership development, studying advances in crime control and concepts like “predictive policing,” and gaining more specialized training to meet complex community needs;
  • Rethinking how detectives are utilized, not only to react to and investigate crimes, but also to help prevent future crimes;
  • Developing partnerships with nearby universities and colleges to gain assistance with research endeavors, crime analysis, policy development, and the implementation of best practices;
  • Being more strategic and thoughtful in focusing enforcement efforts towards violent criminal offenders through initiatives such as “Project Ceasefire” and other best practice activities;
  • Doing a better job of engaging all members of the community in dialogue and crime reduction efforts, including those who have traditionally been alienated by the police or suspicious of police authority;
  • Focusing on first-line supervisors, such as sergeants and civilian managers, for additional training and development—recognizing their KEY role in molding new officers and developing a healthy organizational culture;
  • Recognizing the importance of involving labor representatives in policy discussions and organizational problem-solving;
  • Rethinking traditional methods of evaluating department employees, performance measures, and tracking progress to better reflect community policing and crime reduction goals;
  • Continuing to evolve the COMPSTAT process to reflect new policing techniques, crime reduction models, community and City Government engagement, etc.;
  • Implementing more effective programs, policies, and activities to develop greater police employee accountability and professionalism;
  • Considering the use of non-sworn (civilian) employees, where appropriate, to free-up police officer time for higher priority services and activities;
  • Enhancing the role of DNA in criminal investigations;
  • Developing strategic partnerships within the community and government to better prepare for the re-entry of greater numbers of previously incarcerated individuals.

As you can tell, there was no shortage of interesting and important topics discussed and debated during this program.  I considered myself fortunate to hear what is being done in other cities that have seen significant reductions in crime over the past several years despite financial, personnel, and other logistical issues.
One theme was continually reinforced:  Cities where city managers, city council members, and other key partners (including neighborhood groups, the faith community, non-profits, academic institutions, and the local school system) are working together with the police are far ahead of those communities where politics, egos, and turf battles have been allowed to come before public safety.
Many people around the country, including a number of individuals in “high places,” as well as in academia, are paying attention to our public safety efforts here in Richmond with a great deal of interest.  Can long-term, sustainable crime reduction be achieved in a community with historically high levels of crime?  Can community policing efforts that build positive, trust-based relationships between the police department and local residents be developed and maintained in a city with a history of fractured relationships between the public and its law enforcement personnel? 
I continue to rigorously believe the answer to both questions is “Yes!”  Richmond is a progressive city with highly committed police personnel and an engaged public.  Working together, I am confident we can make and sustain real progress related to public safety in the years to come.
I look forward to working with my great team at the P.D. on the issues that were addressed at the Executive Session (and the many other issues that we couldn’t get to) as we move forward in 2011.  Thank you for the opportunity to provide a leadership role in the Police Department. 

Chief Chris Magnus