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Remarks from Opening Session of Policing for Prevention Summit

Wednesday, September 5, 2001
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement during opening session of the "Policing for Prevention Summit," sponsored by the US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The summit was held September 5-7 at the World Bank, 2121 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

"Good morning.

On behalf of our Mayor, Anthony Williams, our Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Margret Kellems, and especially the 4,400 men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department - I would like to welcome you to this conference and to our city. The District of Columbia is very excited and very pleased to be hosting this event. And we are committed to making your stay with us both enjoyable and memorable.

I want to salute all the staff — from the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime, from my own agency, and from our partners in this conference — for putting together such an ambitious and forward-thinking agenda. I look forward to listening to, and learning from, all of you, as we work together on new ways to make the theory of "prevention" a reality in our police departments and in our communities.

If you will indulge me in just a quick advertisement for our city, the District of Columbia.

I know that we have a full agenda over the next three days. But I do hope that all of you find the time to get out and discover - or in some cases, re-discover — the remarkable history and culture that Washington, DC is famous for.

I also hope that you can get out and explore some of our many diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, and, of course, sample some of our magnificent restaurants, theatres and other entertainment venues. The District of Columbia is certainly a city steeped in history and tradition, but we are also a modern city that is truly world-class.

If there is anything the Metropolitan Police Department can do to make your stay with us more productive or enjoyable, please do not hesitate to call upon us. And if there is any aspect of our Department that you would like to examine while you are here, please notify any of our staff members.

This summit comes at a time of great challenges — and also tremendous opportunities — for public safety officials around the globe. I know it's cliché, but the reality is that, with advances in communications and science, our world is "getting smaller." This is particularly the case when it comes to policing.

In just over three weeks, at this very location, our city will host the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — as well as tens of thousands of demonstrators who plan to voice their opposition to the policies of these two groups.

The so-called "anti-globalization" protest movement is, itself, a global phenomenon - having moved from Seattle, to Washington DC, to Prague, Quebec, Genoa … and now back to DC. And as this protest movement has developed — and as the tactics of some of its members have become more dangerous and violent — the challenges faced by our police agencies have escalated as well.

To our profession's credit, our respective police agencies have recognized the global nature of this protest movement, and we have worked together — and shared information, technology and "best practices" along the way.

I cannot stand here today and say that we have found the answer to balance the competing interests of ensuring that groups such as the IMF and World Bank can meet, while also ensuring that demonstrators can demonstrate without violence or property damage. But I do know that we are in a much better position because of the global perspective - and the cooperative stance - we have adopted in response to this challenge.

And anti-globalization protests are not the only such issue we are working to come to grips with. Identity theft, online fraud, trademark violations and other forms of "cyber-crime" … child pornography and exploitation … environmental crimes … drug trafficking … even trafficking in humans - all of these crime types have become global in nature. In many cases, it is the global nature of technologies such as the Internet that give rise to these crimes in the first place.

These offenses potentially touch all of our jurisdictions, yet they "reside" in no one of them. An Asian fraud ring that is stealing from a North American web site and depositing the proceeds in a European bank presents a unique enforcement challenge for all of us.

Addressing these types of truly international crimes will take the same type of global perspective and country-to-country and agency-to-agency cooperation that we have employed in responding to the international protest movement. I am very encouraged, as we begin this summit, that a truly global spirit of trust and cooperation among the policing profession has taken root and is growing stronger every day.

But my message today - and the purpose of this summit as a whole - is really this: the type of global perspective and cooperative spirit that I speak of, should not be limited to just large-scale, high-profile issues such as economic protests and Internet crime. We need to adopt the same type of perspective - and the same commitment to help one another - as we tackle the everyday challenges of policing our communities.

In many respects, these "everyday challenges" are more difficult and challenging than the large-scale issues that appear from time to time in our respective communities, and then move on.

And right now, as we survey the landscape of policing in North America, Europe and around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that one of the biggest "everyday challenges" we face is the very theme of this summit. Just how do we integrate this concept of crime "prevention" into our respective policing strategies? And how do we do so in a way that is meaningful, affordable and, above all, effective?

I am not suggesting that we will leave here this week with all of the answers to those questions. But I am very confident that all of us will leave here with an abundance of new ideas, and fresh perspective and insights, that will move each of us closer to the answers we seek.

The good news —as we continue this journey toward making crime prevention a reality in our communities— is that we seem to be coming to some consensus on just what the concept of "prevention" means in the first place.

The dictionary tell us that "prevention" is to "keep something from happening," "to anticipate and counter something before it happens." Crime prevention, then, is to "keep a crime from happening," or "to anticipate and counter a crime before it occurs."

This dictionary definition is helpful, in that it suggests the importance of being able to anticipate an event before it occurs … and being able to proactively take steps to counter that event - to stop it from happening.

But while the definition —in this case, the goal— is pretty straightforward, it's the execution that remains so difficult and challenging. How do we anticipate crime? How do we counter it? And how do we know that we have made a difference? These questions are, in my mind, the heart of the matter, as we work toward this idea of integrating prevention into the everyday policing of our communities.

I think it is instructive for us to step back and look at the history of the prevention movement - here in the United States and around the world. And in deference to our participants from outside the U.S. —especially many of our European partners— I salute your imagination and innovation in this area over the years. In many respects, the United States and other North and South American nations have been playing "catch-up" when it comes to understanding, appreciating and implementing the concept of prevention in its entirety.

In its earliest practice here in the United States, crime prevention was essentially law enforcement. The idea was that the police could prevent future crimes by identifying, arresting and prosecuting those who had already committed previous crimes.

This concept was flawed from the beginning. First, it went against the very definition of "prevention" —to stop something before it occurs - because it allowed criminals to commit at least one, and in most cases, several crimes, before any preventive action was taken.

Second, prevention as simply law enforcement placed great faith in our police, prosecutorial and correctional systems. The idea was that arresting someone would mean both their temporary removal from society -they couldn't commit any more crimes while they were under supervision —as well as their long-term rehabilitation during that period of incarceration or supervision.

Of course, we know from research and personal experience that our court and correctional systems could not possibly meet either of these goals in all cases.

Finally, our reliance on enforcement ignored the fact that even if that one offender could no longer commit a particular type of crime in a particular neighborhood … there were usually several other criminals ready, willing and able to fill the void. Not to mention the fact that thousands of offenders were being released from our prisons each, with a historical recidivism rate of two-thirds or more in the US.

Still, this concept of prevention endured for many decades in the US. —until the 1960s, in fact, when the sheer volume of crime that took place in this era demonstrated the limitations of relying on law enforcement and undermined public support of this prevention concept.

The next phase of prevention was the concept of individual protection - often called, "target hardening." This theory held that to prevent crime, individuals had to take concrete and specific steps to reduce their risk of being victimized.

This concept was a break-through in one important respect. It acknowledged that the police alone could never possibly prevent crime through traditional enforcement action. To be successful, prevention must have an element of individual action, responsibility and accountability —concepts that we continue to promote in many of our current policing strategies.

Even so, individual target-hardening and risk aversion were themselves limited in scope and impact. While many people bought into the concept, and had the resources to implement it by doing such things as purchasing better locks, installing alarm systems and like, many other people either didn't get the message or were unable to follow through on it.

In some cases, the environments in which people lived were so dangerous that individual target-hardening was little more than an exercise in futility. Target-hardening came up short because, even if large numbers of people were informed and took action, there were still many who did not or could not.

So expecting individual citizens to take a more active role in crime prevention was an important shift in thinking, but it was not enough to make prevention a reality.

Eventually, this focus on individual action was transformed into the idea that collective action on the part of entire communities was key to success. Neighborhood watch, citizen patrols and other group activities were the outgrowth of this new ideal. Rather than relying on their own individual actions and resources, citizens increasingly grew to rely on one another for action and support.

When community policing came along in the mid- to late-1980s in the United States, the idea of community collaboration and partnerships was expanded to encompass not only teams of citizens, but also teams of police officers who would work with those citizens. In other words, we had moved from prevention being driven by the actions of individuals —either police officers or citizens— to being driven by the actions and collaboration and consensus of groups of people working together.

Still, much of the focus remained on either stopping the offender or reducing the risk of potential victims. Little attention was being paid to the role that the location —the physical environment— played in the commission, and, therefore, the prevention … of crime.

Here in the US, the publication of Wilson and Kelling's research on "Broken Windows" was really a breakthrough in our thinking about the role of the environment in crime and crime prevention. Their theory was both simple, yet far-reaching: one "broken window" in a community —literally or figuratively— sends a message to both residents and criminals that no one cares about that community.

Criminals act on that "message" by committing crimes, because they figure no one will step in to do anything about it. Residents recoil and retreat, viewing the criminal activity as somehow inevitable in their communities. And that one broken window begets many other broken windows —and the cycle spins downward from there.

At a time when American police agencies were struggling with just what community policing meant, Wilson and Kelling provided a powerful metaphor on the importance of addressing environmental issues as part of our policing strategies. They also demonstrated the importance of bringing those other agencies and organizations that could address these environmental problems into the community policing partnership.

Across the Atlantic, at about the same time, European criminologists and police leaders were taking another tack: operationalizing the concept of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. In many respects, this represented an even more fundamental and significant step in environmentally based crime prevention. While "Broken Windows" focused on quickly identifying and addressing these types of problems after they had already surfaced, CPTED sought to use architecture and design to prevent "broken windows" in the first place.

This was another important breakthrough that has since found a strong following in the US and elsewhere. Today, we see everything from parks, schools, shopping malls, even entire neighborhoods designed from the ground up with a strong crime prevention perspective in mind.

Finally, there is the most recent chapter in this historical overview —what some call "social prevention," or addressing the underlying causes and conditions that breed crime in the first place.

The theory here is that just as the physical environment can either promote or deter crime, so can social factors such as education, job skills, employment, drug abuse, alcoholism, family ties and the like.

While police agencies for years resisted any involvement in this type of "root cause" prevention — the fact of the matter is that without addressing these underlying social issues, all of our other efforts at enforcement, target-hardening, community building, and environmental re-design are undermined at best, and negated at worst.

Social prevention has been, and remains today, probably the most difficult challenge in achieving real and lasting crime prevention in all of our communities. But at least today, there is a growing recognition among police executives around the world that social prevention is something that must be addressed — and addressed through more than lip service or excuses. Operationalizing this concept of social prevention — making it a critical part of our policing strategies - is a challenge that all of us must be prepared to tackle, and tackle with a sense of urgency.

I appreciate your indulgence in this brief history of prevention in policing. Often times, I think it is important for us to understand and appreciate where we have come from, as we try to map out a course for the future.

What I find particularly significant about the development of prevention worldwide is that we have moved from a singular focus on prevention as either enforcement of the law or individual target-hardening, to a much more robust approach that incorporates these and other strategies. I think we have learned through our collective experience over the last 30-plus years that prevention is not one single strategy or approach. Rather, prevention is an amalgam of many different strategies and approaches - none of which can be easily dismissed or ignored.

Enforcement of the law and individual target-hardening still have a role in prevention today. We must not abandon these concepts entirely. Instead, we must figure out how to bring these disparate ideas and approaches together, and develop some type of integrated whole - one that covers the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities we face as a global society.

Here in the District of Columbia, we have begun to try and do just that through a policing strategy we call "Policing for Prevention." Our strategy has three parts: focused law enforcement, neighborhood partnerships, and systemic prevention.

Focused law enforcement, the first of the three prongs in our strategy, recognizes that there is preventive value … strong preventive value … in identifying and arresting criminals - especially chronic offenders - and in targeting criminal hot spots.

Not only does this type of focused enforcement interrupt the criminal careers of the people we arrest - it also sends a powerful message to other would-be criminals that we are serious about our obligation to enforce the law and hold offenders accountable.

"Neighborhood partnerships" recognize that community organization and community action are critical elements of any prevention-based community policing strategy. It is through these partnerships that citizens learn what they can do alone - and as a community —to prevent crime. Our strategy places a premium on training police officers and community members together, and then providing them with the information they need to be strong and effective partners on an ongoing basis. Partnerships are the backbone of everything we do.

The third element of our strategy —systemic prevention— recognizes what I alluded to earlier: that the big issues of social prevention must be acknowledged and addressed in our policing strategies. In almost every instance, these systemic prevention efforts are led by agencies other than the police —be they social services, schools, religious institutions or other government agencies. But the police are critical partners in —and advocates for— these systemic prevention efforts, whether they focus on youth violence, victim services, offender re-entry into society, or any other myriad social prevention initiative.

The important point is that our Policing for Prevention strategy recognizes the importance of attacking the root social causes of crime. And our police department has stepped up to become a focal point —and advocate— for action in this arena. In all of our communities, it is the police who offer unique expertise and legitimacy when it comes to developing and implementing social prevention programs.

That is just a very quick overview of Policing for Prevention, as practiced in Washington, DC. I hope you get a chance to explore it in more depth during your visit here and in subsequent research. I believe that we are developing one of the most expansive, prevention-based policing strategies in this country —and I would welcome your input and advice as we move forward.

So if we accept the premise that crime prevention is, by definition, a broad-based, multi-faceted, and potentially effective approach to policing, then the question becomes: Where do go from here? How do we take these concepts —these different approaches —and turn them into effective and viable policing strategies for our respective communities? I believe the next three days will help all of us find new clues to help answer these questions.

The first challenge, I believe, involves what has been called the "philosophical dimension" of policing.

This means accepting prevention as the overriding goal or philosophical orientation of our agencies - not simply an add-on or afterthought to our mission. It means making a real commitment to prevention as the heart and soul of what we do.

And it is not enough for a police executive to declare crime prevention as his or her strategic goal or philosophical orientation. As police executives, we must be prepared to define our philosophy and goals … and to communicate them to our own members, to our partners in prevention, and to the people we serve.

This afternoon's session on "Integrating Prevention Into a Policing Strategy" will explore this philosophical dimension to challenges ahead.

As we move forward, we must also be concerned with how we organize our agencies - indeed, our entire governments - to support our prevention-based philosophy, mission and orientation.

Here in the U.S. and around the world, police departments have been among the most traditionally structured of all organizations. Highly bureaucratic, functionally based organizational "silos" have been the rule in policing for many, many years.

Yet, there is a growing realization that our traditional structures - usually designed around the function of law enforcement - are not very effective at supporting the practice of crime prevention in its many and varied facets.

So we need to take a new look not only at how we organize ourselves, but also the types of individuals we bring into our organizations, the training we provide them, and the organizational support we offer them throughout their careers.

These are among the issues to be explored in tomorrow morning's session.

Another key issue - and one that flows from the structural discussion - is how we plan for and budget our activities. Just as our traditional organization structures have not adequately supported the concept of prevention, neither have our traditional approaches to finance and budgeting.

Here in the District of Columbia government, we are moving away from a traditional budgeting process based purely on structure, to a process that is "performance-based." Under this approach, individual agencies must identify the work we do, define our outputs and measures, and assign costs. Budgets will then be awarded based on activities, not on agencies or units within agencies.

As we all know, the work we do — especially work in the area of prevention — cuts across multiple units within our organizations, as well as multiple government agencies and even private service providers. Preventing the problem of youth violence necessarily involves much more than hiring more youth officers and implementing new police programs. Success in this area will require new resources and collaborative partnerships among many different agencies, providing many different services.

Sufficiently and creatively funding these inter-agency collaborations will be one of the key challenges all of us will face in the future. It is just one of the considerations to think about during Tuesday afternoon's session on collaborative partnerships.

Finally, we face the challenge of developing and implementing the tools and technologies that are needed to support true crime prevention. Most of us are already working on the technology front - both to improve our internal effectiveness and to facilitate the easy and efficient exchange of information with our partners in policing.

But the tool kits we will need go well beyond information systems and related technology. Training, policies and procedures, knowledge management, research and evaluation —all of these will be critical tools as we work to take prevention to the next level in our agencies.

The tool kit that the ICPC has developed —and which will be discussed on Friday morning— is an important addition to the continuing pursuit of prevention tools that work.

I am very excited about the growth and development —and especially the future potential— of crime prevention within the policing profession worldwide. And I am especially excited about this conference and the new doors it will undoubtedly open.

When I entered this profession 33 years ago, the concept of crime prevention was openly scorned by many police leaders - or relegated to an obscure box on the organizational chart by most of the rest.

Today, with enlightened leadership in our profession, and a new commitment to sharing ideas across jurisdictions and around the world, I truly believe we are on the brink of major breakthroughs —not only in how we conduct our business but, more importantly, in how successful we are in promoting public safety.

Our strength clearly lies in our collective spirit of cooperation and our shared commitment to make this concept of prevention a reality for today and tomorrow. I am very proud to be a part of this historic summit —and I look forward to your wisdom and camaraderie this week and in the weeks and months and years ahead.

Thank you very much."