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Statistics-driven policies forgo crucial connections

I was deeply shocked two years ago when a 14-year-old boy shot Rochester Police Officer Anthony DiPonzio in the back of the head for no apparent reason whatsoever. And a year ago this month, the City of Buffalo witnessed the most shocking crime of violence in living memory when eight people were shot -- four of them fatally -- in the notorious City Grill massacre. Weeks went by and the Buffalo Police Department could get no witnesses to come forward, even though more than 100 people had been on the scene.

These incidents and others across the state starkly show that relations between police and citizens who live in distressed, crime-ridden neighborhoods are poor. A prime reason is that policing in America has become a business driven by statistics and technology, while forging a partnership with the community has a low priority. The concept of community policing has been widely derided as mere "social work."

Five years ago in Albany, a rash of shootings and homicides involving perpetrators as young as 15 and victims as young as 10 sparked an intense public discussion about the nature of police service. The Common Council created a gun violence task force, a number of grass-roots coalitions formed, the Albany Police Department began a process of organizational soul-searching and a public search for a new leader for the Police Department gave the people of Albany a voice in the process.

Today, under Chief Steve Krokoff and his team, the Albany Police Department has forged an effective partnership with the community. Public satisfaction with the department is at an all-time high. Albany is the state's first truly community-policed municipality.

In Buffalo, I have the honor to have been appointed to the Joint Commission to Examine Police Reorganization created by the Buffalo Common Council and tasked, in part, to recommend ways in which to bring community policing to Buffalo. The commission got off to a rocky start, but in recent months, it has hit its stride and begun the process of building a trusting partnership with the Police Department.

Beginning in the mid-1990s with the advent of the statistics-driven CompStat program in New York City and subsequently the state's Operation IMPACT, police agencies across the nation have grown apart from the communities they serve. They can point to declining crime statistics, but people in neighborhoods will point to declining confidence in their police agencies. Without partnership between the police and the community, all the science and technology and modern management and accountability tools will never reach their full potential. Teenage boys will hate cops. Witnesses to crimes will not cooperate. And well-meaning community activists will stage anti-police demonstrations and file lawsuits.

As we have demonstrated in Albany and as the Buffalo Common Council has resolved, there is a better way. The community policing way.

Terry O'Neill is director of the Constantine Institute in Albany.

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