California Dreaming: As calls for police reform mount, many California cities look to revamped community policing programs

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) – As the state legislature considers dozens of police reform bills, including one that would strip officers of their badges for misconduct, many California cities are also rethinking the role of their police.

Many departments have implemented some form of community policing. It can mean different things for different departments.

“A few years ago, the community policing consisted more of a local involvement of armed police officers, perhaps by playing sports, by supervising children, perhaps more by walking to the rhythm than by driving a car” said Brian Hofer, executive director of Secure Justice, an Oakland nonprofit. which militates against government surveillance.

But community policing has evolved with the nation’s renewed emphasis on police accountability, according to Hofer.

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Many departments are turning to community policing as an alternative to law enforcement to deal with mental health issues and domestic conflicts.

In 2018, the city of Santa Cruz launched its neighborhood police teams which rely on unarmed officers to resolve certain crimes or complaints of nuisance.

“With the neighborhood police, we are working with the community to understand the issues associated with this neighborhood. Maybe they want a park to have a reduced influence on the people who use drugs in that park,” he said. Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills said.

Lupita Alamos saw the team in action after calling the police due to security concerns near the Santa Cruz metro center.

Alamos and his colleagues from the Santa Cruz finance department reported that people were using drugs and urinating in the building’s parking lot.

Instead of sending officers to summon or arrest offenders, Chief Mills sent Catherine Brothers, an unarmed community service officer.

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Officer Brothers met with workers to find out their concerns and proposed strategies to improve safety.

“The goal was to create a passive deterrent to allow the environment to control itself,” said Officer Brothers, who proposed a plan to improve landscaping, install low-level fencing and signage on rules. driving in the lot.

“We wanted to create a less desirable place for people to hang out,” Officer Brothers explained.

The strategy has proven to be effective.

“I felt the approach was addressing the root issues by eliminating areas where people could hide and hang out,” Alamos said.

The approach clearly departs from another crime prevention program abandoned by the police department in 2017.

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Predictive policing used a computer program to analyze crime data to predict where future crimes might occur. Data can include the location where a crime occurred, the time it occurred, the time of the crime, and in some cases the weather conditions at the time the crime was committed.

“Data is critically important to law enforcement because you want to make sure that what you are doing is effective. The problem arises if you are using data as a form of police,” said Chief Mills.

Predictive policing has been criticized for its racial bias and for its excessive surveillance of predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

“A lot more black people are being stopped than they should be. If we use traffic stops to power the algorithm, it will only perpetuate the same bias,” said Hofer, who also chairs the advisory committee. on privacy from Oakland, which lobbied to ban the predictions. police and biometric surveillance in the city.

Chief Mills said the department chose to get rid of predictive policing because of concerns it continued to place officers in Latino and black neighborhoods.

“There is a better way to police,” said Chief Mills.

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