Recently, two groups of officers representing several police departments in Eastern Mass. have gotten together to take advantage of an opportunity seldom afforded them: to pause and reflect on what they have learned about crime and disorder. We too seldom (almost never) ask personnel at the line level what they know and what they are thinking, despite the fact that people closest to the problems always have a more informed and nuanced sense of how to address them, as Herman Goldstein pointed out many years ago.
The officers have met very two weeks over several weeks in two to three-hour chunks to think and develop strategies together. In both cases their foci have been reducing and deterring crime and disorder problems that have vexed police and public for years. Their vehicle has been officer-driven Think Tanks.
The ideas of Prof. Goldstein and Jack Welch inform the efforts. Goldstein conceived “Problem-Oriented Policing” and Welch coined the term, “Every Brain in the Game.” The Think Tanks get every brain in the room actively engaged in problem solving.
On the Boston’s North Shore, six departments met every two weeks at the Salem MA Police Department, at the invitation of Chief Paul Tucker, to think about and discuss what they know and wanted to know about how housebreaks and car breaks work in their communities. Personnel from Beverly, Danvers, Lynn Marblehead, Peabody and Salem, with support from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, Probation and District Attorney’s Office, developed tailored plans for their communities. As the participants recognize common patterns of offending and common offenders across their jurisdictions, they are collaborating with the Essex DA, Sheriff and Probation to establish a Working Group on Prime Suspects in Property Crime in the region.
Chief Tucker told the chiefs assembled for the presentations on March 1, “This has been an excellent investment for us, leveraging the knowledge and brain power from all six departments to create some thoughtful and promising strategies. I am proud of the work they did.”
At the Boston Police Department, and at the instigation of Commissioner Ed Davis, Brookline Chief Dan O’Leary and Cambridge Commissioner Bob Haas, people from eight departments have put together a Think Tank on these hot topics:
• Working with the Mentally Ill
• Enhancing Accountability for Supervisors
• Youth Violence Deterrence and Reduction
About 35 people, from patrol officers to deputy superintendents from Attleboro, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Framingham and Newton are hard at work at this writing.
The groups are called formally Effective Practices Partnerships. They meet for a defined period, five or six 2-3 hour sessions over eight to 10 weeks. They end with presentations to the participating chiefs. The North Shore Group has completed their work and members have made their presentations to their chiefs. The Boston area group wraps up in early May.
Officers start with a blank page. This proves vague to officers at the outset, as this kind of open-ended thinking opportunity is so unusual in the police service. The service trains officers to address what the public presents and then to move on as quickly as possible to the next call for service. Also, police are some of the country’s best crisis managers and their instincts are to move immediately to action. Given a bit of facilitation and time, officers get comfortable taking some the time to reflect and learn together.
Lynn MA Chief Kevin Coppinger said of the North Shore effort, “The feedback I got back from our officers was all positive and they enjoyed the experience very much. I thought the presentations this morning were right on target and well put together.”
For more info on the Think Tanks, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org