Is Law Enforcement Appropriately Proactive?

Article excerpt

Law enforcement agencies, as a rule, are reactive. A crime occurs, the police are notified, and the perpetrators are perhaps arrested and prosecuted. But this approach represents a form of policing that fails to acknowledge the critical role the police can and must play in preventing crime. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the response to street crime. The culture of policing is simply to respond after the victim has been accosted or injured.

Prevention has been a watchword for private security for years, but to redefine the police role in terms of prevention is a radical departure from traditional police practices. Yet this new approach offers undeniable advantages to law enforcement agencies - and ultimately to the private businesses and citizens relying on them for protection. By tackling crime at its earliest stages, this strategy will help to limit the overall costs both in terms of police resources and the toll of crime on the community.

One key to developing a proactive strategy is a well-managed intelligence system that identifies public safety threats in a rational and objective manner. Intelligence is at the core of proactive police management. Information collected by both the uniformed and detective branches must be relevant to anticipated threats and timely.

Information must also be properly analyzed and presented in a manner that makes it meaningful and understandable to policy-makers. Trained data analysts must, therefore, be part of any proactive policing program.

A good example of how a proactive model can work is "Operation Kat-Net," whereby Port Authority Police Detectives assigned to JFK International Airport, along with agents from the FBI, New York State Police (NYSP), and members of the Queens district attorney's office initiated a three-year undercover investigation (1994-1997) into the theft of stolen cargo and property.

The result was the arrest of eighty-three individuals and the recovery of $13 million in property. Rather than waiting for cargo thefts to occur, these teams had a proactive plan to catch the ringleaders of developing schemes and prevent future crimes.

Also as part of the Kat-Net operation, the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) developed a twenty-four-point cargo-theft-deterrence program. The program serves as a checklist of basic security measures that Port Authority detectives assigned to JFK now use when talking to businesses that have cargo shipping operations at the airport. Detectives remind companies, for example, to implement such preventive procedures as keeping loaded mobile equipment secured at all times. This program serves both as a reminder for businesses and as a "heads up" to criminals that the Port Authority is on alert.

The PAPD is making prevention a part of its everyday routine in other ways. For example, through its crime analysis unit, the PAPD has a tactical function whereby crime data is compiled daily and given to the commanding officers to help them better deploy their personnel.

The Port Authority's widespread jurisdiction ranges over a radius of twenty-five miles and covers all of the major arteries into New York City, plus the World Trade Center. JFK alone, which encompasses 5,000 acres with ten terminals, is like a small city. In deploying its personnel (authorized strength of 1,400 police officers), the PAPD commanding officers use the analytical data provided them so that they can recognize anticipated public safety threats and allocate their resources to those threats. …

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