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Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary Oversight Hearing on the Police Service Area (PSA) Model

Friday, July 10, 1998

Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary Oversight Hearing on the Police Service Area (PSA) Model

Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chairman Evans, distinguished members of the Committee and other guests, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this morning to share with you my thoughts, my impressions and my plans for the future regarding the PSA model. Introduced just over a year ago, the PSA model is the cornerstone of the MPDC's community policing strategy. So it is important and appropriate that we take the time to step back and assess our past progress, as we continue planning for the future.

One year may seem like a long time for some things. For me, personally and professionally, the last year has been a time of incredible change. But one year is a relatively short period of time in the evolution of a new policing strategy and in the organizational changes that are part of that evolution. Today, one year after its introduction, our PSA model remains a work-in-progress, not a finished product. It is critical that we maintain this perspective as we examine the past, present and future of the model.

Four years ago, I appeared before bodies such as this one, as well as community groups and the media, to report on the progress of community policing in Chicago at the one-year mark. CAPS—the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy—was rolled out with great fanfare in April 1993, and people wanted to know, at the one-year milestone, Is it working? Or, more specifically, What is working with CAPS, and what isn't? In the nearly three months I have been in the District of Columbia, I have been asking the same questions about the PSA model to a lot of different people—to myself, to my command staff, to police officers and field supervisors, to community leaders and residents. Just yesterday, I convened a group of about 70 field officers and officials at all ranks to get their perspective on the effectiveness of the PSAs.

What I find interesting is that many of the things I heard and saw in Chicago four years ago, I am hearing and seeing in the District of Columbia today. One year into its evolution, the PSA model has shown significant progress and even greater promise for the future. But to achieve that promise, there are certain problems that must be corrected and certain obstacles that must be overcome. I recognize that. And I am committed to correcting the problems and overcoming the obstacles that stand in our way at this stage of the model's development.

So what's working with the PSA model? I think we can point to some important changes over the last year:

  • Barriers between the police and the community are beginning to come down.
    Residents are beginning to identify with their police officers, just as police officers are beginning to identify with the communities they serve. This has been particularly important in our more troubled, higher-crime neighborhoods where relations between the police and the community have traditionally been the most strained.

  • The visibility of uniformed police officers has increased overall.
    We have a greater level of "beat integrity" today—officers who are able to stay on their assigned PSAs so they can get to know the people, the problems and the resources in the community.
  • Greater beat integrity is translating into greater responsibility and accountability for the crime conditions on their PSAs.
    Many of our officers and their supervisors report a new sense of pride in their areas and a new sense of ownership of the problems in their PSAs.
  • The PSA model has led the Department to refocus its energies and efforts on what is truly important to our customers: fighting crime and restoring order, in partnership with the community.
    Over the past year, serious crime in the District of Columbia has declined—and declined sharply—in all crime categories and in all seven police districts. While it would be premature to attribute this decline to the PSA model, the numbers suggest that the model is certainly compatible with significant crime reductions.

These qualities I have identified—stronger bonds between police and community, enhanced police presence, increased responsibility and accountability, a renewed focus on crime and disorder—they are more than just indicators of progress to date; they are the foundation upon which we will build the PSA model of the future. And I think it is a good foundation.

Still, I recognize that as you look across the District, the implementation of the PSA model has been uneven and inconsistent. The model is working better in some PSAs than in others. Some areas are still struggling with the basic concept and its implementation. That cannot—and must not—be an indictment of the entire model, however.

There are probably many reasons for the unevenness in implementation. Some of it may involve resources. Some of it may involve training. Some of it may involve the commitment of individual personnel and the leadership of those above them. As I said earlier, the areas that are in need of change are not unfamiliar to me. They are essentially the same problems that Chicago and other major cities wrestled with during the early stages of their implementation of community policing. They are changes that are important and often times complex. But they are also changes that are doable.

I want to outline briefly five of my priorities for improving the PSA model:

  • The size and staffing of PSAs.
    I am concerned that the initial configuration and staffing of the PSAs was driven strictly by numbers—and even then by only a limited set of data. The result has been an imbalance in workloads and the resources to handle them. I do not anticipate wholesale changes in the PSA boundaries, and any changes that are made will be done with the input and advice of the community. But I do anticipate changes in the deployment of resources within the PSAs. My goal is for every PSA to have sufficient personnel to handle emergency calls for service swiftly and efficiently, to investigate crimes promptly and thoroughly, and to allow PSA officers enough time to engage the community in real problem solving. This may necessitate some changes in shift assignments, day-off groups and other scheduling processes—changes that I am prepared to make.

  • Training.
    I understand that our personnel were provided with some training at the start of this process. But training in community policing cannot be a one-time effort, using a one-size-fits-all approach. Training must be continuous. It must be specific. It must clearly define the roles and responsibilities of members at all levels of the organization. And training must be expanded to include not just police personnel, but members of the community as well. In Chicago, we recognized the need for community training early on, and we developed an innovative program of joint community-police training. I intend to explore the same concept here in the District.
  • Greater support for problem solving.
    The current model places almost all of the planning and problem solving work on the PSAs themselves. I support the idea that each PSA should have a detailed plan of action for addressing crime and disorder problems in their area. But I also think that each district should have a plan of action that supports and complements the work of the PSAs. Some crime problems cross PSA boundaries and need to be addressed at a broader, district-wide level. I will be requiring district commanders to develop action plans, and I will train them and their key personnel in how to effectively implement those plans.
  • Department-wide implementation.
    The PSA model was introduced one year ago as a strategy for redeploying patrol resources. And patrol deployment remains an important part of the model today, as it will in the future. But for this model—this philosophy of community policing—to achieve its full potential, it must do more. It must become the philosophy of the entire Metropolitan Police Department, not just our Patrol Services Bureau. Every member of the MPDC—sworn and civilian, in all bureaus—must understand the concepts of partnership and problem solving. And every member of the Department must be prepared to support those concepts through their own work—whether it is in criminal investigations, communications, information systems, recruiting and training, or any other specialized or administrative unit. At the same time we are improving the PSA model at the neighborhood level, we must also work to instill the philosophy throughout the organization.

  • Relationships with other agencies and services.
    Until now, much of the Department's focus has been internal, on getting the basic model up and running in the PSAs. But the fact remains that the police and community alone cannot solve many of the crime and disorder problems we face. We must have the cooperation and resources of other agencies—public and private—to deal with problems such as broken street lights, abandoned buildings, substance abuse, and others. Addressing these underlying causes and conditions is an essential part of any public safety strategy, but something which we have yet to effectively implement. With your cooperation, we must work to transform our "community policing" model into a true "community government" approach to public safety.

I will close by repeating something I said at the very beginning. Our PSA model is a work-in-progress. There has been considerable progress over the past year. But there is also considerable room for growth and improvement—in the areas I highlighted, and probably others as well. I have already begun to initiate some of the changes that are needed, and the process of change will continue. Five years from now, if we are successful, community policing in the District of Columbia will not even resemble community policing as we know it today. It will be better, stronger, more widespread, and even more focused on fighting crime and meeting the needs of the community.