During my first year in office, several new initiatives were launched in an effort to keep our MPD on the cutting edge of service delivery. To that end, affirmative steps have been taken including:
1. Expanding our reach into more neighborhoods with the creation of five neighborhood resource officers (NRO’s).
2. Created five full-time mental health officers (MHO’s). These officers were taken from our Patrol ranks and one MHO is assigned to each District. MHO’s work on preemption/intervention/collaboration and follow-up on cases that take considerable time and resources. These officers will also work closely with our existing cadre of mental health liaison officers who are assigned to Patrol.
3. Reorganized investigative resources in order to create a Violent Crimes Unit (VCU) and Burglary/Patterns Crime Unit (BCU). Pulling detectives and crime analysts into these two specialized units that have a citywide focus, we hope to get a better handle on trending/emergent serial crimes that require a coordinated response that transcend district boundaries.
4. Reinforced our commitment to traffic safety and enforcement through a consolidation/reorganization of resources to create an afternoon/early evening TEST (Traffic Enforcement and Safety Team) unit to complement our daytime TEST.
5. Through the generosity of our Capitol K9s (a non-profit fund raising and support group of volunteers who advocate on behalf of our K9 Unit), we were able to field another dog and handler, thereby expanding our reach of these phenomenal working dogs who contribute so much to our ability to work scenes more effectively and safely.
The foregoing examples are only reflections of the institutional or structural changes that have occurred. This doesn’t begin to adequately capture the committed and collective great works that are being done by our talented work force. While it can sound so very cliché, our strongest assets are truly the selfless servants who reflect the hope that as individuals CAN and DO make a difference here at MPD—and these folks will continue to be a force for good!
Moving forward, our next catalyst for change will be strengthening our commitment in the area of youth engagement. Recognizing that the cornerstone of community policing is predicated on building meaningful relationships of trust, we can always do better (and will). I am confident that, given the chance, our officers are remarkable in their positive engagements—but we need to have consistent access and appropriate resources. As a trainer, I taught recruits that there is a simple formula that I employ when attempting to coach them up in a new skill set: increased exposure(s) + increased repetition(s) = proficiency. We can only do so much with episodic and/or random contacts with our youth in relationship building . . . there has to be an intentional, consistent platform for these encounters to grow. The rest of this blog will provide a brief description of what is currently in place and how I would like to see these offerings expanded.
We have a partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) that has proven invaluable on some levels but I would like to take this relationship to greater heights. Currently, MPD has a Safety Education Unit consisting of four officers that are primarily responsible for teaching Classes on Personal Safety (C.O.P.S) to fourth and fifth grade students throughout the City’s public and private elementary schools. The curriculum was originally developed and is continually updated by MPD Safety Ed. Officers in conjunction with teachers from MMSD. Some of the basic topic areas include: self esteem, bullying, internet safety, protective behaviors, AODA subjects, and gangs.
Safety Ed. Officers’ presence is not limited to delivering the C.O.P.S. program. It is not uncommon for these officers to attend assemblies or join students for lunch, recess or an occasional field trip. You will also find them reading books to kids and visiting other primary school classrooms to discuss a variety of safety issues and concerns. The Safety Education Unit also acts as a liaison between the Department and the MMSD Safety Patrol program. So as far as K-5 goes, I am comfortable that we have an excellent foundation to build on, a relationship that is nontraditional and allows for positive interactions and a great forum for helping our kids make good choices on numerous fronts.
MPD also has four officers assigned as Educational Resource Officers (ERO’s) at the four public high schools. Recognizing that each one of these schools represent a small-sized community, a joint venture was entered into years ago by MPD and MMSD whereby the ERO provides a presence, available to handle and complement school security matters with the District’s own in-house security (civilians). I was one of the original ERO’s that piloted the program that exists today. I was assigned to my alma mater (West High, class of 76′, and STILL the best high school in Madison) but left the program when it became clear that the ERO’s were not going to be used as a resource in teaching. I believe that everyone in our community (and especially our youth) could learn from classes that inform on life’s lessons, to include what I will refer to as “legal literacy.” Frankly, I think that students could benefit from knowing what their rights are, what police limitations and powers are, when can the cops enter your home, what are the expectations on both sides of an encounter like a traffic stop, and a host of other topical issues. The feedback I get from my current cadre of ERO’s is that the times that they are asked in on ANY type of classroom discussions are few and infrequent and this disappoints me, greatly. Now, more than ever, dialogues between youth and institutional authority (i.e., the police) are essential in debunking myths and increasing transparency. The District knows my feelings on this and I hope that we can make some progress in this endeavor. There is proof it can be done and done well as I have been participating in a 4th Amendment class at Memorial (12++ years) in conjunction with a greater scope of instruction focused on the criminal justice system. The teacher comments that this session is among the most favorably received blocks of instruction that his students review.
You will note that we have covered our participation in grades K-5 and 9-12. What about middle school, grades 6-8? This is where we are largely in absentia–save for the random requests that may come in for a subject matter talk. And this points out my greatest concern and the impetuous for our efforts to improve on outreach . . . we do not have consistent access or opportunity to engage our middle-school populations. I believe this is a critical crossroad in adolescent development where choices about gangs, drugs, and decision making is colliding with pulls from peer pressure and other external sources (i.e., social media) that send some very mixed messages. I’m comfortable with what is taking place K-5, melancholy about the underutilization of our ERO’s for grades 9-12, and totally depressed about our void in the middle schools. I certainly understand and empathize with the trials and tribulations of MMSD: the priorities have to be about doing everything possible to create successful outcomes in graduation, achievement scores, and getting our kids prepared for the next level of their progression whether it be in colleges, trade schools, the military or work world. But I strongly believe that there is much to be said for imparting a better understanding of the narratives that are thrust upon us on a daily basis. With all due respect to my beloved Miss Beckerleg (who single-handedly tutored me to the point that I could pass trigonometry), I retained more from another teacher (who eventually saw the light and became a cop for MPD), Steve Sheets, who as part of his social issues class, talked about when the police are required to administer Miranda rights and when they are not compelled to do so. Both are valuable but one is a life’s lesson that went a long way in helping me to understand my rights.
So we are pushing the envelope and creating some initiatives and programming options that hold some real promise as we attempt to gain a greater foothold in reaching our middle-school youth. The Department recently sent some of our Safety Ed. Officers to a program entitled, G.R.E.A.T. or gang resistance education and training. G.R.E.A.T. has developed partnerships with nationally recognized organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, Families and Schools Together (FAST), and the National Association of Police Athletic /Activities Leagues, Inc. (PAL). The focus is on providing life skills for students in helping them avoid delinquent behavior and violence to solve problems. The officers came back enthused about the possibilities and will try to cultivate a pilot program in one of our middle schools this fall.
The Department has also applied for and received a grant to create a new community policing outreach unit (Community Outreach and Resource Education Unit or CORE Team). The CORE Team will initially be comprised of a sergeant and two officers (and a civilian community resources coordinator, funded through other means). (We expect to hear about a second grant that will provide for another three officers to add to the unit by sometime in the fall, thereby giving each District one CORE officer). These officers will not be call-driven, reactive cops who deal with traditional service calls; instead, they will be pro-actively working in/with community groups and partners to break down barriers between youth and police, create better understanding of the police function in communities of color, create/expand programs to divert youth from the criminal justice system (i.e., restorative justice initiatives) and enlist support from the community to promote wrap-around support(s) for youth. CORE will also be assuming a prominent role in taking the lead with our Black and Latino Youth Academies, Amigos en Azul, and launching a new Explorers program (for those who may have a career interest in policing). Whether in our neighborhoods, our community centers, or our schools, CORE will attempt to establish those relationships that can only be realized when there is NOT a crisis or problem in the mix.
I would be doing a disservice to the many officers who have developed a passion for helping youth reach their greatest potential. From the beat cops who routinely make a point of parking their squads and shooting hoops, to our neighborhood officers who create safe environments and programs that meet the needs of our young(er) constituents, to the mental health officers who work with families and care providers in exploring options for kids who are in need of assistance, and to the gang officers who routinely develop relationships which outline paths and choices far preferable to the “life” offered by being in a gang, I am blessed to be a part of a crusade that is hopeful. . but that hope will only be realized if our youth is supported over time with consistent role models, frequent contact(s), and reinforcing the “good” choices and behaviors that are happening all around us!
This post was originally published on July 13, 2015 on Chief Koval’s blog.