Police managers (continued)
Chapter 3: Maps That Speak to the Issues

Management issue 4: Demographic change and its implications for managers

A key fact affecting police department mapping is that some 26.3 million immigrants, about three times as many as in 1970, now live in the United States (Escobar, 1999). This 10 percent of the population is critically important to law enforcement, whose primary function requires interaction with the public. Although many communities may feel little effect (particularly those that are more isolated and rural), major metropolitan areas with many immigrants have experienced profound social change.

It is in such places that community policing takes on special significance. Not only are "traditional" minorities (primarily African-Americans and Hispanics) voicing their opinions, but relatively new groups, such as Bosnians, Dominicans, Russians, Koreans, and Vietnamese, are becoming more visible and politically articulate. Matters are further complicated by the fact that a specific national group, such as the Vietnamese, may not necessarily constitute an ethnic group. Vietnam, for example, has 53 ethnic groups, leading to potential stresses along ethnic lines.

Each group's perceptions of what is legal or illegal may differ sharply from local norms. Opportunities for misunderstandings with law enforcement are rife, and community policing officers must understand the cultural values and practices of the groups they encounter. Language barriers mean:

  • Citizen reports may be difficult or impossible to understand for officers who are unfamiliar with a language.

  • Confusion and frustration over misunderstood reports may result in underreporting of crime because persons who assume they will not be understood may stop reporting crimes.

  • It is unlikely that first-generation immigrants will become police officers.

What does this have to do with crime mapping? Because police agencies need to know what is going on demographically in their communities to react appropriately, mapping demographics and related factors may translate into better community relations. The Washington Post published the article "When Fighting Crime Isn't Enough: Fairfax, Montgomery [Counties] Seek Police Chiefs Adept at Community, Employee Relations" (Shear and Shaver, 1999). Surprisingly, perhaps, what was missing from the discussion about recruiting new chiefs was the crime issue. The debate was peppered with phrases such as "effective management," "comfortable with changing demographics," and "diversity." Traffic generated more interest than burglary!

A basic need is mapping where the minority and immigrant groups are located. Are they scattered throughout the community or clustered in distinct areas? What are their institutions and facilities (e.g., churches and temples, community centers, and schools)? What are the issues of concern to communities and what are their locational attributes? A map such as the one in figure 3.10 shows how census data can be used to locate ethnic groups and determine the overall degree of ethnic diversity. Based on 1990 census data, the figure illustrates the relative evenness in the proportion of five ethnic groups in census tracts. The index varies between 1.0 (equal numbers of all groups, maximum diversity) and 0.0 (only one group in the tract, minimum diversity). The ethnic diversity map could be viewed as a model for achieving the same ethnic distribution in the police departments serving various communities. A department does not match the community if it is less ethnically diverse than the area it serves.

Figure 3.10

Another possibility is to maintain a geographic inventory of minority and immigrant concerns so that managers can see what and where the issues are. Community leaders could be identified, perhaps by subareas of the larger ethnic community, to ensure that a contact person exists for each neighborhood. Mapping can also be used to show where second-generation minorities are reaching adulthood, enabling targeted police recruiting. The 2000 census will permit this type of analysis on the World Wide Web.

A major problem for demographic mapping is the lack of current population data. Until data from the 2000 census become available, alternative data sources are necessary. Analysts may have to improvise. Field mapping may need to be done and communities delineated on the basis of visual checks, perhaps with the aid of a global positioning system (GPS). Other possible data sources include those on school enrollments, utility hookups, and building permits and inspections. Although not yet fully operational, another promising resource is the American Community Survey (visit Web site http://www.census.gov).

Management issue 5: Accountability and New York's ComStat process1

New York City's Computerized Statistics (ComStat) process was initiated in 1994 in the form of crime control strategy meetings. As a result of sharp declines in the city's crime, the system is now widely imitated. According to the police department, ComStat's objective is "to increase the flow of information between the agency's executives and the commanders of operational units, with particular emphasis on the flow of crime and quality-of-life enforcement information." Crime strategy meetings, held from 7 to10 a.m. twice a week, are part of an "interactive management strategy" intended to improve accountability "while providing local commanders with considerable discretion and the resources necessary to properly manage their commands." Precinct commanders present at the meetings twice a month.

The process format requires that precinct commanders appear before the ComStat meeting prepared to discuss crime and policing in their areas. A big-screen computer map shows the precinct under review. For example, a string of robberies with similar circumstances might lead to questions about known habits of robbery parolees living in the vicinity. As this conversation develops, a map showing relevant parolee addresses illustrates the discussion.

The crime reduction principles embodied in the ComStat process are:

  • Accurate and timely intelligence. Information describing how and where crimes are committed, as well as who criminals are, must be available at all levels of policing.

  • Effective tactics. Tactics are designed to respond directly to facts discovered during the intelligence gathering process. Tactics must be "comprehensive, flexible, and adaptable to the shifting crime trends we identify and monitor."

  • Rapid deployment of personnel and resources. Some problems may involve only patrol personnel, but "the most effective plans require that personnel from several units and enforcement functions work together as a team."

  • Relentless followup and assessment. To ensure that appropriate outcomes occur, rigorous followup is necessary.

Underpinning ComStat crime reduction efforts are eight explicit police strategies:

  • Getting guns off the streets.

  • Curbing youth violence in schools and on the streets.

  • Driving drug dealers out of the city.

  • Breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

  • Reclaiming public spaces.

  • Reducing automobile-related crime.

  • Rooting out corruption and building organizational integrity in the New York City Police Department.

  • Reclaiming the streets of New York.

How does crime mapping fit in? The police department explains it like this:

Among the command and control center's high-tech capabilities are computerized pin mapping and the capacity to display crime, arrest, and quality-of-life data in many formats, including comparative charts, graphs, and tables. By using MapInfo software and other computer technology, the ComStat database can be used to create a precinct map depicting almost any combination of crime and/or arrest locations, crime hot spots, and other relevant information. These visual presentations are a highly effective complement to the ComStat report, since they permit precinct commanders and executive staff members to instantly identify and explore trends, patterns, and possible solutions for crime and quality-of-life problems.

A problem often overlooked in other police departments—crime patterns that overlap precincts—is addressed through an expectation that precinct commanders cooperate with other commanders to address issues of mutual concern. Typical ComStat process maps are shown in figures 3.11-3.15.

Figure 3.11

Figure 3.12

Figure 3.13

Figure 3.14

Figure 3.15

Chapter 3: Maps That Speak to the Issues
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Mapping Crime: Principle and Practice, by Keith Harries, Ph.D., December 1999