Does Community Policing Work?

Maybe we’ll never know, for sure, whether community policing works.  “The emperor has no clothes,” declared Montclarion Jim Dexter.  “There’s no information about what the PSOs are doing…no accounting as to what they are really doing.”

Jim Dexter was a public commenter appearing at the Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, last Monday.  He appreciated the good work from local PSOs (problem solving officers), but was responding to the performance report presented that evening.

Latest Measure Y Report

It was interesting to hear Oakland’s consultants report on Measure Y performance, which was gauging whether “community policing adhered to the principles of Measure Y.”  The presenter pointed to police department accomplishments which included assigning officers to all beats, cooperating with neighborhood crime prevention councils, and improving geographic accountability.

The consultant discussed some failures as well.  First, PSO slots experience high turnover and that’s a barrier to success.  Additionally, current information systems limit the ability to analyze problems or manage expenditures.  There didn’t seem to be any shared vision or articulated approach in the department, either.

Even the consultants knew they were operating with incomplete information.  In a better world, the presenter articulated what should be measured:

  • Changes in type of problems reported by residents
  • Number and type of high priority problems integrated in beat plan
  • Number and type of high priority problems successfully addressed
  • Level or implementation of problem solving model/steps
  • Changes in resident perceptions of public safety
  • Changes in resident perceptions of police
  • Changes in crime levels

More Discovery And Questions

The review is underway, but clearly not done.  On Monday, various questions emerged to understand this performance report better, especially about its comprehensiveness and validity:  Who was surveyed?  What were they asked?  How does the PSO tracking software work?  What are the PSOs required to report here?  And so forth.

Marleen Sacks, an Oaklander who filed a suit about Measure Y compliance, stated the report wasn’t critical enough.  “Everybody in this room should share the same goal…oversight of Measure Y.  This report is evidence that not everyone in the room shares that goal.  Numerous aspects of Measure Y have still not been implemented.”

No one questions the underlying realities related to budgeting and staffing of the Oakland Police Department.  It’s a foregone conclusion they don’t have administrators who might collect, slice or dice performance data.  So much for Measure Y compliance, right?