Posts Tagged ‘police’

Photo: KSTP.
Violence interrupters in Minneapolis (above) made 1,400 contacts with community members between May and November and successfully mediated 210 incidents that threatened to escalate into gun violence, according to a city official. Other interrupters may be elderly church members sitting in chairs at key locales.

In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Louis King and Jerry McAfee write about “interrupters,” who work to stop gang violence. Louis King is president and chief executive of Summit Academy OIC in Minneapolis. Jerry McAfee is pastor of the city’s New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.

They write, “On May 28, Gloria Howard, an elder with Shiloh Temple, opened a lawn chair and sat down on one of the most dangerous street corners in North Minneapolis. Every day since, as part of the 21 Days of Peace community organizing project, she and others like her in our city have sat on street corners that are threatened by violence. Through the simple act of publicly taking a seat — staking their claim to a peaceful neighborhood by interrupting violence — they have undoubtedly saved lives.

“The campaign began after three children were shot in Minneapolis over a period of a few weeks this spring [and one]was critically injured.

“Tragic stories such as theirs are occurring in cities across the country, as alarm bells ring in city halls and state capitols about rising violent crime. The problem is due in large part to a loss of trust between communities and law enforcement; disinvestment in neighborhoods and schools where more help, not less, is needed; and decades of failure to keep guns off the streets. …

“Too many leaders are responding by adopting a Nixonian ‘tough on crime’ stance — which usually translates into over-policing and under-supporting these communities. That is a shortsighted non-solution — George Floyd’s murder beneath the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis last year can be traced directly back to policies that respond to crime by emboldening and insulating the police from the community rather than encouraging deeper engagement with the community.

Being a violence interrupter isn’t the only answer, but it is clearly helping in Minneapolis.

“In late May, we joined dozens of community members like Howard as churches and neighborhood associations mobilized in the effort called 21 Days of Peace — based on the idea that it would take at least three weeks for habits to start changing.

“Our group asked the Minneapolis Police Department to identify the most dangerous spots in our neighborhood, the 4th Precinct, and then we went there, pulled out our chairs and sat down. For the past three months, we have conferred daily with the precinct about the number of volunteers (two to 15, usually) and hours needed. We work in shifts, using a sign-up log online. In the winter, we’ll work on relationship-building with young people in the community.

“The precinct’s police inspector, Charlie Adams, tells us that since 21 Days of Peace began setting up in the Northside in ‘hot spots,’ the precinct ‘has seen a reduction in violent crimes in those areas.’ …

“The city’s overall violent-crime statistics have improved across the summer. In June, homicides in Minneapolis declined from June 2020, the first such drop this year. Then the same thing happened in July and August. …

“What makes this simple act of sitting apparently so powerful?

“The people sitting on these corners in their chairs are members of the community. We know our young people, and they know us. But more important, we represent one of the strongest bastions of moral authority left in these areas: the Black church. We draw on the power of congregation — of family, of friends and of community — to try to interrupt the violence.”

Read about other groups doing this work in other cities at the Post, here.

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Photo: CNN
Eugene, Oregon, a town of 170,000, replaced some cops with medics and mental health workers. It’s worked for more than 30 years.

Often when society wants to find a better way of doing something, it’s possible to find a model with a track record showing what works and what doesn’t. Consider this non-police response to crises.

Scottie Andrew writes at CNN, “Around 30 years ago, a town in Oregon retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counselors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that wouldn’t necessarily require police intervention.

“In the town of 172,000, they were the first responders for mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide — the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent. Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.

CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the US criminal justice system — pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.

“Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. CAHOOTS wouldn’t work everywhere, at least not in the form it exists in in Eugene. But it’s a template for what it’s like to live in a city with limited police.

“CAHOOTS comes from White Bird Clinic, a social services center that’s operated in Eugene since the late 1960s. It was the brainchild of some counterculture activists who’d felt the hole where a community health center should be. And in 1989, after 20 years of earning the community’s trust, CAHOOTS was created.

“It stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets and cheekily refers to the relationship between the community health center that started it and the Eugene Police Department. …

“Said David Zeiss, the program’s co-founder, ‘We knew that we were good at it, [and] we knew it was something of value to a lot of people … we needed to be known and used by other agencies that commonly encounter crisis situation.’

“It works this way: 911 dispatchers filter calls they receive — if they’re violent or criminal, they’re sent to police. If they’re within CAHOOTS’ purview, the van-bound staff will take the call. … It always paired one medic, usually a nurse or EMT, with a crisis responder trained in behavioral health. That holistic approach is core to its model. …

“White Bird’s counterculture roots ran deep — the clinic used to fundraise at Grateful Dead concerts in the West, where volunteer medics would treat Deadheads — so the pairing between police and the clinic wasn’t an immediately fruitful one. There was ‘mutual mistrust’ between them, said Zeiss. … ‘It was an obstacle we had to overcome.’

“And for the most part, both groups have: Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner called theirs a ‘symbiotic relationship’ that better serves some residents of Eugene:  ‘When they show up, they have better success than police officers do.’ …

“Police encounters with the homeless often end in citations or arrests. Of homeless people with mental health conditions, anywhere from 62.0% to 90% of them will be arrested, per one journal review of homelessness studies. They may end up in jail, not in treatment or housing, and thus begins the cycle of incarceration that doesn’t benefit either party. …

“Most of CAHOOTS’ clients are homeless, and just under a third of them have severe mental illnesses. It’s a weight off the shoulders of police, Skinner said.

” ‘I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-base for everything our community and society needs,’ Skinner said. ‘We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioral health.’ …

“June Fothergill, a pastor at a Springfield church, [calls] CAHOOTS to pick up the homeless people or people with substance use issues that stop by for free meals.

“Fothergill said while CAHOOTS does its part well — providing immediate services to someone in crisis — there’s still a void when it comes to long-term solutions.

” ‘You can call someone for the crisis, but what are they supposed to do for it?’ …

“They’re better equipped than police to care for the people she serves, she said. But if there isn’t space in affordable housing, Eugene’s detoxing center or mental health facilities, those clients will turn into regulars.’They’re doing what they can do,’ she said. ‘There’s wonderful work going on, but it isn’t adequate at the moment.’ …

“Advocates for limiting the role of police have pointed to Eugene as an example of social service providers and law enforcement working in harmony. But a growing group of dissenters feel there’s little room for police in the movement to fundamentally change the American criminal justice system. Services like CAHOOTS, they say, may function better and more broadly without the assistance of police. Zeiss isn’t sure he agrees.

” ‘Partnership with police has always been essential to our model,’ he said. ‘A CAHOOTS-like program without a close relationship with police would be very different from anything we’ve done. I don’t have a coherent vision of a society that has no police force.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: The Guardian
What it looked like when a swarm of bees attacked a New York City hotdog stand.

As you know, I think New York City is an endlessly unspooling entertainment reel. This adventure with swarming bees is a typical example. Wish I had seen it. The police officer in charge must have been surprised to discover that a bit of obscure training would actually come in handy someday.

As Adam Gabbatt reported at the Guardian, “Productivity came to a halt across New York City offices on Tuesday afternoon, as hordes of people eagerly followed the removal of 20,000 bees from a hotdog stand. …

“Thousands watched a Reuters livestream – the stand is located outside the news agency’s New York headquarters – and followed on Twitter as a police officer was called in to remove the bees. With a vacuum cleaner. …

“Officers from the New York police department stood guard, some more willingly than others, as one of their colleagues donned a beekeeper’s hat and approached the hotdog stand.

“The bees had gathered in a densely packed, roughly 15-square-foot clump, and the unidentified officer, who wore a white jacket, thick gloves and has a moustache, proceeded to vacuum up the bees. The bee cleansing took about 40 minutes, much of which was watched online.

“By around 3 pm, the officer, who told journalists he ‘has training,’ had removed the bulk of the bees, but many remained in the area, swarming around a selection of soft drinks displayed on the hotdog stall. …

“Andrew Coté, who runs the New York City beekeepers’ association, had answered a call from the NYPD and was watching as the bees were removed. Removal by vacuum cleaner – it was a specially adapted vacuum cleaner – was common, Coté said. He estimated there were 20,000 bees on the umbrella, but said: ‘You’ve got to count the legs and divide by six to be sure.’

“Coté said … this late-August swarm had likely occurred because of an ill-managed beehive. He said there were a number of hives within a block of the hotdog stand.

“By 3.15 pm police had re-opened the street, although a number of bees were still on the scene.” More here.

You definitely have to know what you’re doing with bees. I’m sure a transplanted Minnesota beekeeper I know in Berlin, Massachusetts, would have managed his hives better if he had set up in a city. Beekeeping is serious business, and you don’t want to be responsible for anyone with an allergy getting stung.

Video: Reuters

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Photo: Matt Nemeth for WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR station
Former football player Baron Batch reinvented himself as a street artist.

I enjoyed this story from the sports radio show Only a Game about a former football player who became an accomplished street artist. Sarah Kovash reported.

“It wasn’t until after Baron Batch left the NFL that he attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh police department. … It was while riding his bike along one of Pittsburgh’s riverfront trails that he stopped to spray paint a message.

” ‘You know, I just got so comfortable with painting on things outside,’ Batch says. ‘Like, I just was riding my bike and just tagged the trail.’ He didn’t stop there.

” ‘I had this tag that said “all your scars are lovely” down by the wharf. That’s where I like ride my bike, and I always get off my bike there and stretch my ankle. I have no cartilage in my ankle. It’s just grinding bones. I deal with chronic pain every single day. So, at that spot, you know, I was riding one day and stretching. And that hit me. Like, all your scars are lovely.’ …

“Batch started his company, Studio AM, about a year after leaving the Steelers. Young Pittsburgh residents took notice and began sharing his work on social media. Batch relished the attention.

“He started doing what he calls ‘art drops,’ where he would leave one of his paintings in a public area and post its location on social media — free to the first person who could find it. …

“He turned his studio — located in the Pittsburgh-adjacent, Rust-Belt town of Homestead — into a brunch venue and gallery. On Sundays, visitors eat fruit-covered french toast and savory rice dishes while chatting with the artist. It’s not the same crowd you’d find at a Steelers tailgate.

“Last year, Batch was commissioned for a mural project. He created 20 pieces throughout the city, mostly on the sides of buildings. …

“As Batch spent more time on outdoor murals, he moved from the surfaces he had permission to paint to … some he didn’t. …

“He painted other colorful messages — some on a bridge and a parking lot. It never occurred to him that he was breaking the law. …

“Batch was creating some of the most inspired art of his career, but his project was quickly halted when the police showed up. …

“In all, police said Batch caused more than $16,000 worth of damage. They charged him with 30 counts of criminal mischief. …

“Batch had to pay $30,000 in fines and legal fees. But he says his arrest also led to a much needed discussion about public art.

“Part of that conversation was with the Friends of the Riverfront. That’s the group that manages the trail Batch graffitied. The group gave Batch permission to paint a section of the trail that’s lined with concrete barriers.”

And it turned out that the arresting officer, Detective Alphonso Sloan of the Pittsburgh police graffiti squad, had empathy for Batch. He told the ex-football player, ” ‘Hey, I admire your artwork. Even though some of it’s, you know, it’s illegal.’

” ‘[He] said “OK, I’m an artist, and you’re an artist. How about we get together sometime?” We worked on several projects.’ …

“Detective Sloan hopes Batch doesn’t test the city’s graffiti laws again.

” ‘[I’m] hoping it’s just a one-time thing because I hate to arrest someone … you get to work with them and you actually like them.’ ”

More at Only a Game, here.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Police officers working to build a free-standing Little Free Library in Minneapolis as part of an initiative to encourage reading.

According to Libor Jany at the Star Tribune, some Minneapolis police officers are starting to engage with communities in a new way.

“In a partnership with Little Free Library, the department will turn a pair of its police cruisers into bookmobiles with the hope of teaching the importance of reading.

“Community policing officers will carry books while they are making their rounds on the city’s North and South sides. They’ll still respond to certain emergencies, but won’t be dispatched to calls for help, freeing them up to visit neighborhoods without libraries and give away books to anyone who wants them.

“The program is the first of its kind in the country, organizers say. …

“From a distance, the [Little Free Library] boxes could be mistaken for a birdhouse or an oversized mailbox. An unfinished dollhouse, even. But when they’re finished, officials say they’ll be stocked with dozens of all kinds books. People are encouraged to take a book or leave a book, without fear of overdue fines. …

“Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement that he was thrilled by the exercise in community building, ‘an incredible way to empower our youth and reach them in a positive way.’ …

“Little Free Library Executive Director Todd Bol started the book exchange in his hometown of Hudson, Wis., in 2009, building the first mini-library out of an old garage door in honor of his late mother. Today, there are more than 60,000 libraries in all 50 states and more than 80 countries around the world. In recent years, the little book boxes have sprung up in far-flung places like Australia and Qatar. …

“For now, available titles to be given away range from children’s books like ‘Camp Wildhog’ and ‘The Box Car Children: The Yellow House Mystery’ to more adult fare, including a well-thumbed unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart.” More.

Trust those Minnesotans to take a great concept a step farther!

A couple of my other posts on Little Free Libraries may be found here and here.

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As in other cities nationwide, relations between communities and police are often tense in Boston, but here is a small effort that focuses on reducing arrests and getting help for people who are troubled.

Evan Allen writes at the Boston Globe, “When Officers Michael Sullivan and Jeff Driscoll and senior crisis clinician Ben Linsky head out on their beat in Mattapan, they seek out the most vulnerable citizens: the drug-addicted, the homeless, and the mentally ill. Theirs is the only unit of its kind in the city, and its mission since it was started in February is to help, not arrest, people [with problems]. It’s part of a broader effort in the Police Department to work with the community. …

“Sullivan, Driscoll, and Linsky, who make up Mattapan’s ‘Operation Helping Hands,’ spend two nights a week freed from dispatch calls. Instead, they get to know the people on the streets, figure out what services they need, and try to provide them.

“ ‘You’re one part social worker, one part cop, and one part older brother,’ Sullivan said. …

“The number that [Police Chief William] Evans is most proud of is arrests: for the past year and a half, officers have been locking up fewer and fewer people. The city saw a 15 percent reduction in 2015, followed by the 10 percent drop so far this year.

” ‘When I came on the job, you measured what kind of an officer someone was by quantitative statistics. How many arrests. How many moving violations. We don’t do that anymore,’ Evans said. ‘I think our officers get it: It’s not about throwing people behind bars, it’s about getting them services and opportunities.’

“Driscoll, a 39-year-old father of two, has been on the force for 10 years, all of them in Mattapan. Before that, he served for several years in Watertown. He and Sullivan, a 32-year-old father of a 2-year-old boy, who joined the force three years ago, both grew up in police families, wanting to be officers. When Mattapan Captain Haseeb Hosein decided to start Helping Hands, they were an easy choice.

“ ‘With everything that’s going on in this country, the biggest thing is trust and fear. So how do we break those two barriers down? I think we break it down by building relationships,’ Hosein said. ‘They’re really good guys who understand the environment that we’re in, that we need to go the extra mile.’ ” More.

Getting people services that really create lasting change would be ideal, but who can cavil with de-escalating potential blowups? Ensuring that you don’t make matters worse than they are already is surely an important step.

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
“Operation Helping Hands,” made up of two officers and a crisis clinician, is the only Boston Police unit of its kind.

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Central Falls, Rhode Island, may be best known today for going bankrupt and forcing its police and fire unions to accept cuts to pension benefits, but it has more going for it than angst.

It has people who care, like Mike Ritz and chocolatier Andrew Shotts, who are selling Chocolateville chocolate bars to help children at risk.

It also has a charter school that has quietly improved children’s reading skills, spreading its success to public schools in the city.

Joe Nocera writes in the NY Times that before starting The Learning Community in Central Falls, Meg O’Leary and Sarah Friedman “spent three years working with the Providence school system on a pilot program designed to come up with ways to ‘transform teaching practices and improve outcomes.’ ”

In 2007, when Frances Gallo became the Central Falls Schools superintendent, she began to investigate why families were so excited about getting into The Learning Community.

“The school drew from the same population as the public schools. It had the same relatively large class sizes. It did not screen out students with learning disabilities. Yet the percentage of students who read at or above their grade level was significantly higher than the public school students. When Gallo asked O’Leary and Friedman if they would apply their methods to the public schools, they jumped at it.

“ ‘At first it was, “Oh, here comes another initiative,” ‘ recalls Friedman. There were plenty of venting sessions at the beginning, along with both resentment and resistance. But The Learning Community invited the teachers to visit its classrooms, where the public school teachers saw the same thing Gallo had seen. And very quickly they also began to see results.”

Read about how they do it here.

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Not an appropriate quote, but I can’t keep it from coming into my head:
“Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
“That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
“Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
“That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.”

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