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Community Policing ~ continued from page 1

MPD’s communications director, Dustin Sternbeck, in responding to our request for comment about this incident, took exception to our understanding of the facts, as follows:

“The bilingual officer involved in the referenced incident is intimately familiar with the Columbia Heights beat. He had interacted with the young lady and her brother days prior and had legitimate concerns for their well-being. When he noticed them again in the days following, there were repeated attempts to communicate with them and social services were requested in case they were in jeopardy. Despite your assumption, this interaction was not about the possession of a vending license, but about the safety of these children.”

Community Policing Policy as Stated by the Mayor and Police Chief

On August 9, 2017, in response to an announcement by the office of the  U.S Attorney for the District that it was not proceeding with an indictment of an MPD officer, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a press release in which she stated, among other things, “Our police department is one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the country with very progressive community policing practices.” [Emphasis added.]

And, nearly a year-and-a-half later, on January 15, 2019, in an address at the start of her second term,  Mayor Bowser included the following: “MPD will dedicate additional officers to community policing assignments that are deployed by foot, bike, Segway, and scooters.”

Fri., Jan. 3rd: MPD officer taking at Dupont Circle CVS taking a theft report. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

In addition, DC’s new Chief of Police Peter Newsham back in 2017, in an interview with George Washington University’s student newspaper, The Hatchet, laid out his vision to take the department in a more progressive direction, prioritizing community policing to strengthen ties between officers and the communities that they patrol and boosting morale to prevent officers from fleeing to other departments.

Despite assurances like these mentioned above and statements made by MPD officials at community meetings, many residents with whom The InTowner has spoken are dubious that there is a coherent operational plan or even commitment at the precinct level to follow through. To address this concern, we also asked MPD’s Sternbeck, for comment which he provided (in part) as follows:

“Beyond the initial incident, you ask two primary questions: whether MPD practices community policing and how whether MPD’s recruiting practices will generate candidates who are open to community policing.

“The first question is an unequivocal yes. The top priority for Chief Newsham is to continue to build strong relationships with our communities and to ensure that every interaction with police supports that. To that end, every officer is responsible for promoting positive interactions throughout the District. Our patrol officers are on the street solving problems with our community partners every day. They meet with community members and organizations to discuss issues well beyond crime, they coordinate with other District agencies, and provide information about non-police services for community members.”

[Ed. Note: For reasons of space, we have not included the entirety of the MPD response, nor are we here providing its full and thorough response to the matter of recruiting. Instead, the entirety of Director Sternberg’s more than 1,800-word submission is reprinted in full following the conclusion of this report.]

What is Community Policing?

Community policing is, in essence, collaboration between the police and the community it serves to help in solving problems in that community. With the police no longer the sole guardians of law and order, all members of the community become active allies in the effort to enhance the safety and quality of its neighborhoods.

Community policing has far-reaching implications. The expanded outlook on crime control and prevention, the new emphasis on making community members active participants in the process of problem solving, and the patrol officers’ pivotal role in community policing require profound changes within police organizations.

Despite assurances like these mentioned above and statements made by MPD officials at community meetings, many residents with whom The InTowner has spoken are dubious that there is a coherent operational plan or even commitment at the precinct level to follow through. To address this concern, we also asked MPD’s communications director, Dustin Sternbeck, for comment. This he provided in an unusually (for an agency public information officer) response; the following excerpt addresses our reporting on the incident , which follows:

What is Not Community Policing?

Community policing focuses on prevention not apprehension; Community policing is not —

■ officers speeding about on bicycles or scooters;
■ wearing sunglasses (non-verbally cutting them off from the community);
■ lingering over lunch at fast food places or coffee on breaks;
■ sitting in patrol cars working (or maybe browsing) on their computers.

Each morning around a little before 5:00 a.m. our reporter rides his bike along a half-mile route to his gym & regularly passes four to six idling patrol cars with lights and officers seemingly working on their computers. Stats show that this is a time period with the least criminal activity,; even so, MPD crime alerts to report numerous muggings of persons walking to bus stops on their way to jobs. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

Who is Attracted to a Career as a Police Officer?

Uber Driver Elian believes that persons who seek out a policing career so – consciously or unconsciously — for the badge and power. Former federal office James, however, suggests a different view, noting that policing may attract former military rank and file enlisted men and women due, possibly, for its structured environment and focus on law and order.

There is some research that finds a correlation between military experience and policing. 19% of police have some military connection; that is disproportionate of the population as a whole, at 6%. Former federal official Travis speculates that this makes sense since former military personnel are seeking a disciplined environment and they have firearms experience.

According to an analysis performed in 2017 by Gregory B. Lewis and Rahul Pathak of Georgia State University for The Marshall Project, “. . . most police leaders value having them on the force. They bring with them skills and discipline that are regarded as assets.”

The Marshall Project study also found that veterans who are police officers are more likely to get physical on the job, generate more excessive force complaints, and are more likely to fire their guns.

That finding has raised questions by community policing advocates whether a military background is appropriate for these assignments and whether backgrounds in fields like human resources, psychology or sociology might be preferable. Nonetheless, as reported on Military.com,  the U.S. Department of Justice Community Policing Service did offer 220 cities $114.6 million to fill 800 positions with 9/11 Veterans.

In addition to the Marshall Project’s findings, there is research which explores the correlation between police behavior and athoritarianism. Among its conclusions are noted several personal characteristics of those attracted to policing:

■ Rigid adherence to middle class values;
■ Rigid thinking about power and toughness;
■ Against imagination and tender mindedness;
■ Cynicism;
■ Exaggerated concern with sexual goings on;

The researchers noted officers coming from military backgrounds not just respect authority and know how to take orders, “They like to give orders, too and they demand respect from juveniles, criminals and minorities. They must assert personal authority. Those people who are most authoritarian are most likely to succeed in policing and that police are recruited from a sub-segment of the population that may be prone to authoritarian behavior.”

There is also the matter of family background as an influence on those seeking a policing career. Although there seems to be no research on this, policing appears to be one of those professions that runs in families. One DC example is Patrick Burke who now directs the Police Foundation. Previously, as an MPD officer he in charge of the Park Road police station — named in honor his police officer father.

Park Road police station entrance where Patrick Burke’s father had served. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

In an email exchange regarding family backgrounds with former DC Deputy Chief of Police Diane Groomes, she stated, “I do not believe there’s an official measurement of such for MPD or other jurisdictions. Family connections are not part of required data they collect but from my observations I would say there are many family connections in DC MPD. Probably family tradition is higher in the NYC and NJ Police Departments. I would also state it’s more prevalent for generations that are local residents to continue on such a path.”

Plaque honoring Patrick Burke’s father prominently displayed. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

Conclusion

National Police Researcher Jan posits: What if DC police department recruited specifically for community police. Maybe they could borrow the Canadian term of Peace Officer. Maybe these officers need not carry guns so gun management would not be necessary. Maybe these recruits would already subscribe to the core values of community policing — collaboration, crime prevention, community building, and providing assistance. This might work better than to take existing police officers with antithetical values and training them in community policing. Maybe choose recruits who are already involved in community collaboration, such as volunteer work at church, at shelters, and food banks.

* Senior writer Larry Ray, a member of the George Washington University Law School’s senior adjunct faculty, brings special expertise about community policing to this reporting through previous professional stints including five years as a state prosecutor followed by 15 years with the American Bar Association where he managed a program funded by the AARP to train community police in 10 different cities in mediation, as well as working closely with the Justice Department’s community policing initiative.

Copyright © 2020 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107 (“fair use”).

photo–Larry Ray—InTowner.

============================================

The Metropolitan Police Department takes exception with our reporting

You raise some valid questions about the incident in Columbia Heights but have chosen to omit important and relevant information. It appears as if you have accepted a narrative of the incident provided by advocates without full knowledge of our involvement. It would be irresponsible of you to conclude that our agency does not engage in community policing or is solely reliant on traditional community meetings to interact with residents. The bilingual officer involved in the referenced incident is intimately familiar with the Columbia Heights beat. He had interacted with the young lady and her brother days prior and had legitimate concerns for their well-being. When he noticed them again in the days following, there were repeated attempts to communicate with them and social services were requested in case they were in jeopardy. Despite your assumption, this interaction was not about the possession of a vending license, but about the safety of these children.

We would also like to respond to some of your thoughts and questions about community policing. There are many definitions of and varying expectations for community policing. You suggested that the officers should have known the kids names and maybe where they lived. While MPD would certainly encourage this, practically speaking it may be challenging to accomplish given the residential population of DC and the number of people traveling through an area at any given time. With a current population of 711,571 residents, and 57 Police Service Areas (PSA), there are approximately 12,500 residents in any given PSA. Moreover, as a major commercial corridor and high traffic Metro stop, Columbia Heights is extraordinarily busy. I do not think it is reasonable to expect police to know the name of everyone on their beat.

Beyond the initial incident, you ask two primary questions: whether MPD practices community policing and how whether MPD’s recruiting practices will generate candidates who are open to community policing.

The first question is an unequivocal yes. The top priority for Chief Newsham is to continue to build strong relationships with our communities and to ensure that every interaction with police supports that. To that end, every officer is responsible for promoting positive interactions throughout the District. Our patrol officers are on the street solving problems with our community partners every day. They meet with community members and organizations to discuss issues well beyond crime, they coordinate with other District agencies, and provide information about non-police services for community members. This is all while they are also responding to more than 700,000 calls for service per year

MPD focuses additional resources based on geographic or demographic communities. For example, MPD’s Community Outreach Coordinators are located at each police district and at MPD Headquarters. Each Coordinator serves as a liaison between the community and the Department. Often they are responsible for relaying critical information to citizens or connecting them with services. While their tasks vary by district, MPD coordinators often arrange community events, speaking engagements, and projects to engage officers and members of the community in valuable collaboration. These coordinators work with officers to host community events to bring officers and community members together so that they can, indeed, learn each other’s names. In 2019 alone, they coordinated over 1,000 outreach efforts – including basketball tournaments, block parties, pop-ups, school activities and field days. For example, each August, we celebrate National Night Out (NNO) with residents, civic groups, businesses, and neighborhood organizations, and come together to strengthen neighborhood spirit and police community partnerships. Additionally, MPD designates several areas each summer to accommodate activities associated with Beat the Streets. We use this model of fun and productive events in the community to build relationships through positive interactions.

In addition to patrol working with youth, our School Safety Divisions and Youth and Family Services Division both focus on building strong teams in support of our city’s youth. Our School Resource Officers:

Coordinate mediations and response to conflicts that have happened or may happen off school grounds;

Provide support to at-risk youth by conducting home visits to chronic truants or suspended students, and seminars to designated youth;

Coordinate MPD’s Safe Passage Program to provide safe routes for youth to and from secondary schools; and

Provide mentoring and outreach programs, such as seminars, assemblies, and presentations on key topics that may impact youth safety, including bullying, drug use, social media, and gangs.

Both divisions lead and participate in initiatives to foster positive relationships with students, support a safe school environment, and encourage youth to be committed to their educational goals. These relationships with youth can also help deter them from at-risk behavior, including gang participation and drug abuse. Youth programs such as the Junior Cadet Program, Youth Advisory Councils, and the Junior Police Academy, reach students from all grade levels, from elementary to high school and special education opportunities.

And in response to numerous requests from the community, last year we reinstated and updated our Officer Friendly program. The goals of the program include building rapport amount students, parents, and police officers by engaging students and teaching about safety, the law, and MPD. We believe the program will foster positive attitudes and confidence about public safety, public service, and the community.

The Department’s Special Liaison Branch (SLB) is a model for community policing in its work with historically underserved communities. The SLB works closely with the District’s vibrant communities, in particular its African, Asian, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, interfaith, LGBTQ+, and Latino communities. SLB officers and its trained affiliates throughout patrol respond to crime scenes and incidents to support members of our community. An MPD victim services specialist works with SLB to focus on crime victims in its communities to support and connect them to non-police services. The SLB also works to support the community with incidents which are not necessarily criminal, such as helping to locate missing persons or with death notifications to family members. The Branch hosts and participates in meetings and presentations and provides the community with public safety materials and information that helps promote a better understanding of interacting with MPD members in criminal and casual contact situations.

In terms of hiring, MPD is successful in attracting an extraordinarily diverse set of women and men who seek to work in the nation’s capital as police officers. Over the past five fiscal years (FY2015-2019), MPD has hired over 1,282 new recruit officers. Throughout this time, MPD has maintained a rigorous selection standards and is often modeled as a “best practice” agency, by organizations such as the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Our selection process includes many traditional components, including a physical ability test, background screening, comprehensive background investigation, medical and psychological evaluation; however, we also include a polygraph interview and have leveraged the National Testing Network’s Frontline National Examination. Such examination deploys video-based decision making scenarios to help our agency select those most suitable for policing in this complex city.

The factors cited in the draft article simply do not represent the MPD and we do our utmost due diligence to recruit and attract the most qualified and diverse officers possible, truly representing our community. Who are our recruits? Our recruits are diverse like our city and want to serve their community:

Our recruits come from the DMV area, with over 57 percent of those hired from FY2018 to present being from the immediate area;

MPD officers maintain strong education credentials, with the majority having their bachelors degree, some a masters and even a few a Ph.D., joining as police officers. While some have served their country in the United States military, military service is not required in DC to be an effective officer;

Our new range in age from 20 – 56 years of age at time of hire, with approximately 25 percent of our new hires being female. This is higher than the current demographics of the Department, which at 23 percent female is already a leader in our nation. In a recent PERF report entitled “The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies Are Doing About It”, responding agencies average 14 percent female officers;

When it comes to diversity, MPD has long been known to be the Department that best reflects the racial demographics of the city it polices. As of September 2019, 65 percent of the Department identifies as non-Hispanic or Latin white, compared to 63 percent for the city. More than 66 percent of our new hires identify as non-Hispanic or Latin white. Our sworn officers are certified to speak 36 different languages;

Our Department also includes officers and higher ranks that proudly represent the LGBTQ+ community.

One important component of our strong recruitment program is the Police Cadet Program, which seeks to attract and train officers from District residents by bringing in graduates from District high schools and providing them with training and a job while paying for them to receive up to 60 college credit hours from UDC. Mayor Bowser has invested in this program by funding an expansion from 35 cadets to the 101 cadets currently in the program. Since the beginning of FY2015, 52 Cadets have transitioned to police officer positions and three to civilian positions within MPD.

We agree that hiring the right people matter, but their training is equally important. That is why this administration has committed significant resources to ensure our police officers are some of the best trained in the United States. Through programs like our Innovative Program on Policing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in partnership with the University of the District of Columbia, all 4,600 sworn and civilian employees have gone through a 10-hour program led by Professors Bernard Demczuk and Sharita Thompson to better understand the impacts of race and policing. Our new recruit officers participate in a 2-day program, which includes a community walk portion, to learn more about areas that they will be serving and frankly where some grew up. This builds on our existing curriculum on the role of police in society as led by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a program our officers have been participating in for over 20 years.

Furthermore, we have expanded innovative partnerships, such as our Police for Tomorrow Program, which is now entering the third cohort. In this program, done in partnership with Georgetown University Law Center, officers learn about the impact officers play in the community and best practices in topics ranging from homelessness, to active bystandership; juvenile brain development to community development. Each officer designs and implements a community based service project. For example, one capstone project involved taking a group of 20 officers into the DC Jail for frank discussions about the role of police and impact of law enforcement. Police officers sat with inmates to learn from each other and discuss issues in our community. Our recruit officers also participate in our Community Engagement Academy, which brings community members into a program to learn about MPD and policing. Through this partnership, community members and recruits learn from each other. We invite you to participate in the next CEA, which begins in February 2020.

These are just some of many programs and efforts we could share to demonstrate how our officers are selected and trained to understand the needs of our community and work with them to address the very complex challenges present in our communities.

Dustin Sternbeck
Director, Office of Communications
Metropolitan Police Department