Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley

Position Paper #6: Crime and Policing

 

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”  —Sir Robert Peel as quoted by Lee P. Brown, the first African- American Mayor of Houston, TX

 

True or False: Beckley is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. Click HERE for the article.

 

True or False: Beckley is one of the safest cities in WV.  Click HERE for the article.

 

The answer to both is false.  Both articles quote statistics to compare cities to one another but not every city uses the system and if they do, they may only report part of the crimes.  The websites compare apples to iron to come up with their answers.  Here is an example: Beckley, and all of WV, are the safest place for all minorities because no hate crimes have ever happened and here is the proof straight from the FBI: WV Hate Crimes. See, no hate crimes anywhere in WV.  You and I both know that it is a lie but if hate crimes are not reported then you don’t know the truth.  You simply cannot look at national statistics to determine where it is dangerous and where it is safe.

 

The recommended idea is to compare crime rates in the same city over time.  Here is what it looks like in Beckley from 1999-2018 from Macrotrends analysis.

wv-population-2020-03-25-macrotrends.png

This gets closer, but it is now like comparing Golden Delicious Apples to Red Delicious Apples - close but not quite there.  Like in the previous paragraph, not every crime gets reported in the system (though I know our city police make a strong effort to be accurate and timely in their reporting).  There are also crimes that go unreported, not by the police, but by the victims or witnesses of crime.

 

The real question is this: Do you feel safe in Beckley?  Depending on who you talk to and where they live, the answer can be yes or no.  Safety is just that – a feeling.  I personally feel safe using the Rails-to-Trails while many others believe the Rails-to-Trails is one of the most dangerous places in Beckley.  Neither feeling is right or wrong because safety is a feeling and not a fact.  This leads to the next question – what makes you feel safe?

 

I deployed to Iraq twice.  The first time was in southwest Baghdad.  When we worked with the Iraqi Army and Police, all they wanted to do was establish checkpoints in the city.  When we talked to the residents, they wanted more checkpoints in the city.  This was very hard for the U.S. Army to understand.  We are taught to maneuver and attack and that sitting still anywhere makes you a target.  I finally had time to think about it after returning from the first deployment.  Although the checkpoints did not meet the criteria for U.S. Army operations, they were the exact thing the population needed because it made them feel safe.  They may not have been any safer but just the presence of police and army made them feel safer.  During my second deployment is when the U.S. Army started paying militias to establish checkpoints throughout Iraq.  That effort in addition to U.S. forces living in smaller bases closer to the people made a huge impact and turned the tide in Iraq (decisions later undid these gains but that is a whole other discussion).  Violence did reduce because of both the appearance and feeling of safety.

 

How does that relate to Beckley today?  Let’s start with another quote from Mr. Lee P. Brown:

 

“Problem-Oriented Policing emerged for a variety of reasons. One was the recognition that the traditional method of delivering police services was not effective. Under the traditional method, the police would receive a call from a citizen, dispatch an officer to the scene of the call, he/she would contact the complaint and make a report of the incident. Chances are the officer would be called on to go to that same location repeatedly. Why was this? Nothing was done to solve the problem. The police, in effect, were merely “incident responders.” When officers were not responding to a call for assistance, they patrolled their assigned beats at random, waiting for the next call. Random patrols rarely resulted in police arriving while a crime was in progress. Rather, random patrol produced random results. On an average, an officer would spend up to 40 percent of his/her time on random preventive patrol.”

 

Currently, the Beckley Police use the traditional method of delivering services – if you call, they respond but other than that they patrol the city.  My statement is not necessarily fair to our police force because I know they do a lot considering the level of issues we have in the city.  It is hard to be proactive when you are constantly responding to issues and if you ever look at the number of calls they deal with per day (printed in the newspaper almost daily) you can see how many things they handle.  The Beckley Police have officers investigating crimes and an officer working on targeting criminals.  That said whether intentional or the result of circumstances, the bottom line is our residents feel alienated from our police force resulting in our residents feeling that Beckley is unsafe.  Even worse, some of our residents no longer trust our police.  This is a recipe for disaster, and we must address the issues before a disaster happens.

 

While I focus on the Beckley Police Department let me be clear, crime is not just a police problem.  Crime is a community problem that will take the entire community working together to address, of which our police department is just one, very visible, component.  Our police cannot fix homelessness, help people with mental health issues, or get the addict clean even though they are typically the first to respond to all those issues.  Our police cannot fix the economic environment the drives people to turn to crime in order to survive.  Our police force are the first responders, not the only responders.

 

I have and will continue to address some of the underlying issues in other papers (see Position Paper #2 Drug Epidemic). I want to focus here on policing and transforming how we address crime at the city level.  I believe the best way to address our crime issues is by implementing the community policing model.  This is why:

 

“What Zhao and his colleagues found worked best at reducing citizen fear of crime and increasing citizen satisfaction was intentional, non-enforcement, face-to-face contact between officers and citizens in the neighborhoods of greatest need. These contacts were not public relations fluff, handing out pencils and stickers to kids, but real police work activities focused on maintaining order, detecting crime, making citizens feel safe.” – Richard R. Johnson (click HERE for full article)    

 

To better explain the Community Policing Model, I will liberally quote this website by the International Association of Chiefs of Police on community policing (click HERE for full article). I encourage you to browse the site to learn more. 

 

“Community policing is defined as involving three key components: developing community partnerships, engaging in problem solving, and implementing community policing organizational features.” 

 

  •  Partnerships: “Community policing encourages partnerships between law enforcement agencies, their officers, and the people they serve. By developing connections within the community, police are better informed and empowered to solve public safety problems.” 

  •  

  •  Problem Solving: “Community policing officers are encouraged to proactively identify problems, develop innovative responses, and evaluate the results. Crime fighting is more proactive than reactive.”

  •  

  •  Organization: “A variety of organizational features and characteristics help support community policing partnerships and problem-solving efforts.”

The Beckley Police Department is working to implementing this model.  I attended the 2018 Citizens Police Academy (and I encourage all citizens that can attend the academy to attend) where much of these topics were discussed.  I will continue to support the Beckley Police in their efforts to implement community-based policing.

 

With that said, there is one area that needs addressed now and that is our police substations and their role in community policing. I will again reference the article from Richard R. Johnson:

 

“All of the studies of community problem-oriented meetings with citizens found they reduced fear of crime among the participants and increased their satisfaction with the police. ... Finally, Zhao and his colleagues found that community substations had encouraging effects on fear of crime and attitudes toward the police.”

 

I address a lot of this in Position Paper #1: Transparency but I want to reiterate it here.  We must have police officers in these substations to meet with the community.  Our police officers must meet our citizens where they live in neighborhoods and apartments. I also want to add that our city police officers need to live in Beckley, and not come in from other areas as this adds to the disconnect between the police and the people. 

 

Projected Annual Cost: $0

This effort reorganizes priorities but should not cost anything to implement.

 

People are afraid of crime and they do not trust the Beckley Police to protect them.  This feeling isn’t fair to the people and it isn’t fair to the hard-working police officers trying to make a difference in the community.  As Mayor, I will lead the effort to reconnect our police and our citizens so that together we can make Beckley better.     

 

“It is one thing to train officers on fighting crime. It is a whole other thing to train them to build friendships and relationships, which are integral to fighting crime. This takes time, effort, and patience on the part of police officers.” – Rahm Emanuel