One of the more popular questions that I get at public meetings has to do with police visibility. Most people want more. Who wouldn’t?
In Montserrat, the ratio of police to citizens is about 7.8 cops per 1.000 citizens. That means there are seven cops of average height and one short dude, but there are almost 8 per 1,000. That’s ideal. By the way, Montserrat is part of the island chain of the Lesser Antilles, in the Caribbean.
(I pulled this up on the Internet. Nice! I have an application in there. I had to lie on the application. Told them I was 25, but looked a bit more “mature.” They asked for a photo. I Googled an image of Fabio and Photoshopped it onto a photo of me in my uniform. They wrote back that I looked too out of shape, but my hair was fabulous.)
Around these parts — parts being this country — the ratio that would probably fit in the norm would be around 1 to 2 per 1,000, 2 being very a very good ratio. That seems a bit sparse, doesn’t it? Well, in these times of budget crunches, 1.5 would be considered excellent.
In Sandy Springs, we would fit around the 1.7 — almost 1.8 — category. Better than average, but still a long way from a cop on every corner.
Mobility is good. Cops in cars provide a lot of visibility. Visibility provides a certain amount of deterrence. But when the car is moving, there’s only so much the officer can see, and less of what he or she can hear.
Old-fashioned foot beats are good for concentrated areas, but with so much suburban sprawl, it’s not practical.
Most police departments utilize and plan strategies based on analysis. “Hot spots” get the added attention of crime suppression units and specifically focused enforcement units. If you have a concentrated area of thefts from cars, then police departments focus on surveillance and teams of undercover units in hopes of catching them.
The next best thing to that is running them off by concentrated uniform patrol. As much as l like my peers in the surrounding cities and counties, I’d much prefer our crooks find it easier to do business there than here.
This is the same philosophy as when we worked beat cars in patrol.
I knew the “usual suspects” and I would occasionally have a short “Come to Jesus” meeting.
Now before you get all A.C.L.U. on me, no rubber hoses were harmed in those meetings. We merely discussed the topic of how I would be thrilled if they would frequent across the street and beat line. The officer on that side of the street would do the same in hopes that the frustrated crook, most often a burglar, would decide to work another area. Some did and some didn’t, but the goal was all about the percentages. You wanted your crime numbers down and arrests up.
If it seems there’s never a cop around when you need one …
Unfortunately, cops can’t be everywhere at once, as the cliché goes, so we constantly look for new ways to address the age-old problems of what I call “prior information.” The more you know, the better you can plan.
Currently, we’re blasting our way into the future of technology — something that left me behind at the gate. For example, the chief began talking about a “fusion” center that we’ll have in place soon. And I thought to myself: “Why the hell do we need a nuclear reactor?”
A more grass-roots approach that many departments are utilizing is the volunteer corps. Volunteers range from administrative support to patrol functions. We plan to utilize a group of citizen for patrols in Sandy Springs. The idea is two-fold. It frees up police officers on calls such as road hazards and traffic problems such as waiting on wreckers, which there is a lot of. Secondly and most importantly, it gives the police more eyes and ears.
That’s a big plus.
You would be surprised at how many seemingly insignificant 9-1-1 calls result in big-time arrests. Someone sees something or someone, perhaps a car slowly driving around the block for the second time or someone loitering or, like we often get, pedestrian traffic going in and out of a home or apartment.
“I don’t know if this is anything or not, but I think it sort of looks suspicious.” We get that a lot. And a lot of times it turns into good arrests.
As far as volunteer patrol, it’s not for everyone. It’s eyes and ears only and it takes someone who isn’t in it for the “adrenaline rush.” It’s for someone with common sense who knows what to look for and someone who has the time to put in.
Several departments across the nation use volunteer patrols. The training is geared to teach the volunteer what to look for and how to report it. Sound simple, but it is a big factor in getting information to the cops early enough to respond.
What we plan is to require volunteers to be graduates of the citizen’s police academy. (We do three each year.) From there, we’ll target specific training in a number of focused areas such as learning how to spot suspicious cars seen in the area, known crooks and what they drive, and how crooks pick a target.
It’s not the old “Citizens on Patrol” silliness from the “Police Academy” movies. It’s something that we will probably see more of. People want to make a difference, especially in their own neighborhood.
This is a great way to increase that “visibility” factor and chalk up a few war stories at the next Bunko session.