Officers who work closely with citizens can actually enhance their effectiveness. Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
When I learned homeland security was a point of interest for this month s issue, I asked myself: How can a typical law officer contribute to this important mission? Then I remembered an important principle I learned early in my career: Good cops mobilize their community.
My mind went back to my first experience walking a foot beat. My partner, Sid, was nearly twice my age and a street-savvy police officer. I was new and clueless. Our beat was a short four blocks on the periphery of downtown Los Angeles. The streets were lined with small businesses, pawnshops, three bars and a couple of diner-style caf s, capped off by cheap hotels and a few offices. The sights and smells were typical of a large city. And the people were either residents of the local, run-down housing or strangers passing through usually only once for a specific purpose.
We conducted our first round, stopped for a scalding hot cup of strong coffee and then walked to a pawnshop. The shop s proprietor handed Sid a photo, a San Quentin release I.D. photo the kind we had in our criminal packages at RID (Records and Identification Division). He told my partner the man in the picture was staying at a local hotel and gave him the room number. As we walked out of the shop, Sid explained to me that he had given the shopkeeper the photo and asked that he let him know if the man in the photo showed up. We later arrested the man who was wanted on several felony warrants. (It was a great arrest.)
What impressed me was how Sid had enlisted others to help us catch the bad guys and keep the peace. I later found out that most of the area s shop owners, bartenders and regulars were on his payroll.
Sid had mobilized his community. Realizing his own limitations, he took action to bring others into the battle. As a result, he was a powerful, effective officer who enhanced his effectiveness by properly using the eyes and ears of dozens of others, increasing overall security.
The Big Picture
During my many years in local law enforcement, I ve also learned that a marriage between local and federal agencies is a good thing. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the awesome responsibility of protecting all of us, but it has limited resources and a very small army of agents. DHS can only be effective if it has many reliable information sources. While the feds bring money and power (e.g., wire capability) to the marriage, local law enforcement brings an army of officers, which can mobilize the people it serves into a vast source of important information and intelligence.
As valuable as mobilizing people in your service population can be, the tactic has some drawbacks. If taken to the extreme a community can fall into a trap, becoming a clandestine force with individuals spying on one another and treating each other with distrust and fear. To avoid this trap, some officers may discourage community input and/or ignore any information that doesn t come from other law enforcement professionals.
Both of these extremes create problems, and the stakes are too high to allow your community to fall into either trap. Unfortunately, some people do want to use terrorist tactics to kill others in the hopes of furthering a strategy to seize power. Therefore, officers can t eliminate the general public as an information source or abuse the source by engendering fear and distrust.
Remember, outrage against a law enforcement strategy or tactic is often a reaction to law enforcement s abuse or misapplication of the tactic. What we intend to accomplish is less important than how we go about pursuing our objectives. Mobilizing the public must be done through carefully thought-out policies and methods. You can minimize the risks related to expanding information sources and balance community mobilization by taking the following actions:
1. Establish a liaison with DHS.
2. Formulate a policy statement that will guide community mobilization efforts.
3. Educate community members about the significant differences between reporting sought-after information (proper) and conducting covert investigations or other quasi-police actions (improper).
4. Emphasize to the community the importance of reporting information without making assumptions about a person s guilt.
5. Implement a system automated or manual to complement field officers receipt of information.
6. Emphasize to officers that information should be reported through the chain of command.
All law officers are responsible for homeland security. Mobilizing our communities can make us more effective in this role and create a safer environment.