The Future of Policing: Relationships


Our national dialogue is fraught.

It’s like a game of gotcha.
And it leads absolutely nowhere.
Endless circular arguments that leave us angry and frustrated.
The latest example is the so-called debate over the term “Defund The Police.”
We don’t need too. Nor should we.
But we do need to invest in neglected communities. It’s not a zero sum game. We can have good police departments and we can set aside money for communities that need our help. This is not an either or choice. We can do both. And we can help our police departments by re-imagining their role in society.
 Perhaps, we are asking our police departments to do too much.
A few years ago, the Dallas Police Chief touched on this notion in a now famous video in which he lamented that every single societal issue ended up at his doorstep.
If you have a stray dog problem, ask the cops to deal with it.
Homelessness, opioid addiction, mental health issues ,domestic violence—-just put the cops on it.
Well, perhaps that’s not the best approach.
First, we never do get at the root cause of these problems and secondly when things escalate it can get end badly for everyone.

Instead, we can invest in mental health professionals, case workers, counselors and others who can assist the police in keeping our communities from descending into places of hopelessness and despair.

A few years back, the Delray Beach Police Department hired a social worker to help with a raging opioid crisis among other issues. I would argue we need more of that.
We don’t have to look far to see an example of how a department can reform and make a lasting difference. We can look to our very own police department.

Thirty years ago, the biggest issue in town was the poor relationship between citizens of neglected neighborhoods and their police department.
Things began to turn around with the introduction of community policing first introduced by interim Police Chief Rick Lincoln and taken to an amazing level by Chief Rick Overman who was hired in 1991 and given the mandate to turn things around.
Chief Overman came from Orlando and he was a change agent.
He was also a charismatic visionary who talked a good game, but played a better one.
He rolled out a blizzard of programs: Citizen Police Academies, outreach to the large Haitian community, problem oriented policing projects to get at the root of issues and a volunteer program that at its zenith numbered over 1,000 residents who acted as the departments eyes and ears.

He broke the city into zones and tasked officers to get out of their cars and into the neighborhoods where they could develop relationships and trust.
The department worked with MAD DADS, a grassroots organization that walked the streets to reclaim neighborhoods from drug dealers.
Chief Overman initiated bike patrols, opened police substations and invited citizens into the department to see how it worked.
There were efforts to have officers mentor local kids, there were midnight basketball leagues, barbecues, self defense classes, toy drives, DARE classes in local schools to keep kids away from drugs and much more.
Some of it lasted. Some of it went away.
But all of it was good.
Because the focus was relationship and community building.
The emphasis was on communication and building trust.
Chief Overman knew that in his line of work it wasn’t a matter of if something would go wrong during one of the thousands of police/community interactions that occur every year in a complex city such as Delray ,it was a matter of when.
He wanted his city and his department to be ready. He built capital. He built relationships.
He built a reservoir of good will.
He also raised standards for hiring officers insisting on a college degree, controversial at the time. But he believed that the more education an officer had, the less likely he or she was to make mistakes—especially violent ones. It was a position backed by research.
Within a relatively short amount of time, the police department went from being perceived as a huge liability to being arguably the city’s biggest strength.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The Delray Beach Police Department made it possible for our city to have a renaissance.
People won’t invest—their time or their money—unless they feel safe.
The example set by the police flowed to every department in the city.
The whole city became oriented toward community building. That meant town hall meetings, visioning exercises, resident academies, youth councils, community dinners, summer programs, after school “Beacon” programs, partnerships with non-profits and much more.
And guess what? It worked.
It’s expensive and time consuming. But…failing to engage your community is a lot more expensive.

A few years back, it became fashionable to trash the past history of this town.
It was a foolish decision driven by petty personal feuds and ego.
But that ruinous mindset  has sure done a lot of damage. It has led to the dysfunction and turnover at City Hall, which ought to alarm and concern us all because it leaves this community weaker and vulnerable.
We stopped doing many of the things mentioned above. We abandoned strategies that built a city and could have done a lot more had that ethos continued.
We even had senior city staff question the investment in some of the programs mentioned above. That’s their right.
But their conclusions were so wrong.
Those investments were not wasted, they enriched lives, created opportunities and built something of value—a community.
I am grateful that our Police Department has maintained good relations with our community.
Chief Javaro Sims has led admirably during this difficult time. We have some  very special officers.
Personally, I’d like to see a recommitment to community policing complete with a plan and a budget. It’s money well spent.
Officers need to know the people they protect and serve. Our city’s children need to know and trust officers.
I’d also like to see efforts made to grow the capacity of local leaders and organizations. We need more leaders and we need to support those we have.
Local government can play an important role in these efforts.
Bring back visioning. Bring back Charettes. Bring back community dinners. Bring back the effort to improve race relations.
Get serious about economic development and capacity building so when development occurs—locals benefit.
We had the playbook. Then we tossed it. For what?
But my friends that play book—well it still works. Dust it off, freshen it up and you’ll see magic happen.

Comments

  1. Robert J Wieder says:

    Well said and written Jeff.

    What thoughts on “defunding” DBPD might the mayor and

    commissioners have on this vitally important topic?

    Do these bottom line decisions stem from the mayor, city

    manager, and commission members?

    Any insight?

    Thanks in advance,
    Bob Wieder

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Hi Bobby
      I don’t see our commission defunding the police. Just a guess. The buck always stops with the commission. Staff makes recommendations, commission makes policy.

  2. Kerry Koen says:

    There is an old saying that “unattended systems run down” and the same can be said for interventionist programs and activities like those you mentioned. When things are working well … “no problem”; but when they work well for a long time, it’s easy to say that maybe the expense is not necessary anymore. In this period of economic downturn, we may see pressure to further diminish support for these programs, but that is very short sighted. It’s like “deferred maintenance” – you end up paying more to catch up than you would to stay the course. Right now, terms that are being tossed around and sound appealing to some, have little or no detail or impact analysis. That is not to say that operations can’t always be made more cost effective – but in a thoughtful and well designed way. Let’s be careful with the undefined and unclear language that can be so harmful and counterproductive.

  3. Charles Stravino says:

    I lived in Delray Beach and work at Delray Beach Fire-Rescue during those time frames and it truly was an amazing period. The Mayor and Commission,City Government, Department heads, the Unions and employees bought into the vision. It transitioned quickly from a pretty bad environment and community culture to a cooperative venture in which most bought into. The biggest factor in all the success,… was TRUST. That is something that is in short supply currently at City Hall.

    Jeffs word are spot on how this can be resurrected and achieved once again. It all starts with Leadership and TRUST!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks so much. Charlie you were a major part of that success and built a lot of trust over your years of stellar service. Thanks for your positive example.

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