BATH'S COMMUNITY POLICING EXPERIENCE:
Engaging citizens and problem solving are key
(from Maine Townsman, June 2001)
By Chief Pete Lizanecz, Bath Police Department

It's been said that the two tenets of any successful community policing strategy are police-citizen partnerships and problem solving.  While this is generally true, the methods used to engage citizens and conduct problem solving by law enforcement agencies often varies depending on residents’ needs and the demographics of the community.

POLICE-CITIZEN INTERACTION

The Bath Police Department implemented community-oriented policing in 1995 with the establishment of a Community Policing Advisory Group (CPAG) made up of 20 persons representing various segments of the community.   CPAG members are from the clergy, schools, city council, police, youth, senior citizens, media, social services, business, parents, and the military, among others.  They meet monthly with the police chief and assist him in tackling citywide problems.   It is important to note that the CPAG is not an oversight committee, but rather it’s a conduit between the police department and the citizenry, in addition to providing advocacy and support for police personnel.  Bath City Manager John Bubier, along with the city council, support and encourage the department’s community policing efforts lending it more credibility.

RENTAL PROPERTY CALLS

In addition to the establishment of CPAG, the police department created a landlords’ group to address longstanding landlord-tenant problems in Bath, known for its high density rental population.  The Coastal Area Landlords Association (CALA) meets monthly and provides a forum for landlord training and discussion on recurring problems with tenants who require repeated police services.  The police department identifies landlords of apartments with repeat calls for service and a “Landlord Notice” is mailed to them asking for their help in solving the problem.

In one such case, Bath police officers had responded over 40 times to a particular building during a six-month time period, for a variety of reasons including disorderly conduct, fighting, public drinking and vandalism.  The situation culminated with a shooting involving one of the tenants and her boyfriend during a domestic dispute.  This prompted the issuance of a “Landlord Notice” which was subsequently sent to the owner.  Upon receiving the notice the landlord, who claimed to be unaware of the recurring problems, met with police and together they mapped out a strategy to begin dealing with issues in his building.

The plan included issuing trespass notices to non-residents who frequently visited the property and caused problems.  Most of time these people were under the influence of liquor or drugs.  The landlord also began evicting problem tenants and made a concerted effort to improve his property with timely repairs, instead of leaving damages unattended to, which added to the deterioration of the neighborhood.  The non-resident trouble makers were arrested when they violated trespass orders.  With the problem tenants and non-residents gone, the apartment building became a more desirable place to live.  Calls for police service to the apartment building came abruptly to a halt.

PATROL ZONES

To address incident accountability issues within the police department, the city was divided into three patrol zones for which a squad of officers headed by a sergeant was made responsible.  Prior to this change, patrol officers had been accountable only for what happened on their particular shift, no matter where in the city the incident occurred.  In addition, rotating 28-day schedules and constantly changing days off made consistent case follow-ups difficult.

By making officers responsible for certain areas and tracking complaints via pin mapping, patrol officers were encouraged to work together to solve recurring incidents.  To formalize the problem solving process, “Quarterly Reports” were developed for all patrol officers.  These reports allow officers to show their work over the course of three months (incidents handled, summonses, arrests, etc), but more importantly, they outline a specific problem the officer worked on during the quarter.   Using proven problem solving techniques, officers clearly identify their problem, analyze it, come up with a plan to resolve it, and provide an evaluation.  At the end of each year, the command staff reviews all of the quarterly reports submitted and a day off with pay is awarded to the officer with the best report as incentive.

NEIGHBORHOOD POLICE OFFICERS

Officers are also made responsible for selected, smaller geographic areas of the city, generally established neighborhoods with recurring problems.  These officers are known as Neighborhood Police Officers (NPOs) and they each receive two-year assignments.  Their time-task plan includes an indepth review of police calls to their area and a study of their neighborhood’s demographics and characteristics.  NPOs are also required to identify a resident as a partner, and conduct a door-to-door survey asking residents for input on their neighborhood’s problems.  In addition, the process includes hosting a neighborhood meeting.  During their assignment, NPOs are expected to spend a large portion of their 10-hour shift in their neighborhood, meeting residents and addressing their issues.  This is done on bicycle, on foot and in marked cruisers.

ZONE REPORTS

At monthly command staff meetings, each sergeant in charge of a patrol zone is required to present statistics on the prior month’s activities in his area as well as show how his squad addressed them.   Particular attention is paid to repeated call locations and the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part 1 Offenses of murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft, arson, car theft.  Sergeants are expected to identify patterns in repeat calls and present plans to address them with their squad using all of the resources they feel are needed.   Plans may include anything from informational meetings with citizens to aggressive enforcement details.  When each sergeant presents his zone’s numbers at the monthly meetings, the subsequent discussion by other sergeants becomes part of the problem solving process.   The sergeants bring their collective experience to the table and provide input and suggestions to aid the presenting sergeant in resolving his issue.

DIRECTED PATROL

Some have criticized community policing as being “soft on crime”, but a successful community policing strategy can include a proactive enforcement component.  At times, the most effective method in dealing with traffic or criminal problems is through short term, highly publicized, aggressive enforcement of motor vehicle and criminal laws.

In these situations, educating community members to gain support of the department’s enforcement efforts is paramount.  In Bath, despite its pervasive community policing philosophy, the police department made more arrests and issued more citations last year than in the previous 10 years.  Still, the overall crime rate dropped significantly from 52.9 in 1999 to 43.3 crimes per 1000 residents in 2000.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OFFICER

Unfortunately, domestic violence complaints are not uncommon in most municipalities and Bath is no different.  To better address these types of incidents, the police department initiated a domestic violence response plan early last year which called for the assignment of an officer to follow every case from arrest to conviction.  The Domestic Violence Officer (DVO) reviews each case as soon as possible following the arrest and visits the victim within four days to provide information and support.  The DVO will often take photos of injuries, obtain statements, and provide the victim with information regarding protective orders.  The DVO also visits the victim armed with information regarding the suspect’s release conditions and frequently re-arrests the abuser for bail violations.

YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS

Realizing that young offenders (under 18) need to be held accountable, but not always through the formality of the court system, the police department implemented two alternative programs.  JUMPSTART is a program initially developed in southern Maine for first time, non-violent juvenile offenders.  Each youth is paired up with an adult mentor for an eight-week curriculum of self-esteem building and decision-making skills.  Juveniles who re-offend or choose to drop out during the program are sent directly to court.

Another program the police department has experimented with regarding youthful offenders involves Juvenile Resolution Teams (JRT).  The participating youth is brought before a group of adults, all of whom have been impacted in one way or another by his crime.  The team may include a relative, the police, a teacher, a family friend, a neighbor, a family pastor, a sports coach, etc.

Most importantly, the team always involves the victim of the crime.  Each member of the team, including the victim, then addresses the offender face-to-face about the impact that his crime had on them personally.  The team, relying on input from the victim, then pronounces a sentence ranging from community service to a court appearance.

DEPARTMENTAL GOALS

Each year, as part of the departmental goal list, the command staff chooses three problems to be focused on by all members of the department for the next 12 months.  The problems are identified after a review of calls for service statistics and UCR numbers, as well as input from citizens.  These particular problems are then tracked on three large pin maps (one for each patrol zone) strategically located in the squad room near the exit door leading to the police cruisers.   The maps are updated weekly and allow officers to stay abreast of the targeted problems on a daily basis, taking special note of emerging patterns or trends as they develop.

For the past two years, the police department has focused on burglaries, thefts from cars and reportable traffic accidents.  With department-wide resources brought to bear, reductions in these areas have been realized.  Burglaries in 2000 fell by 24% from the previous year.  Thefts from vehicles in 2000 fell by 28% and reportable traffic accidents were reduced by 3%.  Overall crime in the city was down by 18% over the previous year.

The challenges faced by today’s law enforcement agencies are complex and require a multi-faceted approach to the reduction of crime and disorder.   In Bath, community policing initiatives, combined with traditional enforcement techniques and the frequent, timely analysis of data seem to be making a difference.