Time-tested Reforms Shield Police from Influence of Mexican Drug Cartels

Posted on February 16, 2011 | Type: Press Release
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PHOENIX – Law enforcement agencies across the Southwest already wrestling with border-related crime now must also confront new waves of corruption within their own ranks.

In September 2010, a U.S. Customs agent in El Paso pleaded guilty to working for years with Mexican cartels to smuggle drugs and human beings across the border. In 2005, the county sheriff in Brownsville, Texas, was sentenced to more than two decades in prison for extorting cash from drug traffickers and illegal gambling operations. Border Patrol agents, city police officers – even National Guard troops assigned to border duties – have been prosecuted for similar crimes.

A new study from the Goldwater Institute says law enforcement can stop this assault on its integrity by adopting the best possible policing strategies as standard practice. The study identifies successful reforms that are working in major cities around the country to hold police officers accountable and to reduce crime rates. These and other reforms should become basic functions of law enforcement everywhere by enshrining them in policy manuals, local government ordinances, and even state law where appropriate, the study recommends.

“Police departments have made great strides in combating crime in recent years, but there is an urgent need to weave the principles behind such success into the very fabric of how police departments do business,” said study co-author George Kelling, father of the crime-reduction strategies known as the “broken windows” approach. “Police agencies can be shielded from threat of rampant corruption spilling over from Mexico if effective strategies become the marching orders for every police chief, detective, and officer on patrol.”

Keeping Americans Safe: Best Practices to Improve Community Policing and Protect the Public,” identifies a comprehensive list of reforms from around the United States such as:

• Use of written benchmarks and scorecards to identify crime prevention and reduction goals so that individual officers can be rewarded for their successes and be held accountable for their failures.
• Accurate collection of information about numbers of arrests, cases that are solved and the outcome of prosecutions, along with prompt disclosure to the public to encourage its cooperation.
• Building public trust with careful spending of tax dollars and tackling budget shortfalls head-on by hiring more civilians to handle non-police duties, sharing of special units between police agencies, and relying more on private alternatives for basic safety patrols.

The “broken windows” approach developed by Dr. Kelling was the peak of the evolution of community policing from a “soft policing” model into a pro-active, rather than reactive, focusing on crime prevention through the vigorous maintenance of order and accountability. During the 1990s, New York City achieved stunning drops in crime from its “broken windows” community policing strategy. In two years, murder declined by 39 percent, auto theft by 35 percent, robberies by about 33 percent, and burglaries by 25 percent.

The Goldwater Institute study highlights the most successful crime-reduction strategies developed by New York City and other communities in the past two decades such as identifying emerging hot spots for crime, using more foot and bicycle patrols so officers are in closer contact with regular citizens, and relentlessly protecting city parks and other public spaces.

Click here to read “Keeping Americans Safe: Best Practices to Improve Community Policing and Protect the Public.” The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog that develops innovative, principled solutions to issues facing the states and whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

About the authors: George L. Kelling is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a retired professor with the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. During the late 1980s, Kelling developed the order maintenance policies in the New York City subway that ultimately led to radical crime reductions. Later, he consulted with the New York City and Los Angeles police departments under William Bratton.

Catherine M. Coles is a former research associate for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Rutgers University-Newark. She has a law degree and a doctorate in social anthropology. She and Professor Kelling are also co-authors of “Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities.”

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