By Tristan Bonn
The world is changing. As we transition from the end of the 19th century to well into the 21st century, from an industrial revolution to an information revolution, every field, industry, and profession must change or perish. Just ask the management and labor of “Twinkies,” here today-gone tomorrow – Poof! This adage applies to policing and police unions just as it does to every other field. But, have the Omaha Police Department and Union changed? Not at all.
Let’s look and see. In the olden days, policing relied on the following practices to detect, deter, and solve crime. First, “Random patrols” were the strategy that most departments used to detect ongoing crime. That is, just drive around “blind” in your cruiser until an officer “sees” something “suspicious,” then responds. Second, if a crime was reported, drive like a “bat out of hell” to get to the crime scene – a quick response to reported crime was the preferred method of crime-solving. These “Response times” were all the rage for years. The idea was, the sooner you could get to the crime scene – the greater likelihood the criminal would be caught. Finally, police relied on “Follow up investigations” to solve crimes. Turn the “crime reports” over to a detective whenever you got to it and see if a “follow up” investigation could solve the crime – fat chance.
Here’s the problem with each of these tactics. First, “Random patrols” are dragnets and dragnets are unconstitutional. The police end up pulling over law-abiding citizens because these traffic stops are too broad and ensnare lawful folks. This type of police contact is commonly referred to as “racial profiling” and while it does not typically pull over people just because they are a minority, it does unlawfully ensnare many minorities who live in a minority neighborhood in these types of pretext stops.
Second, Rapid response times almost never interrupt a crime or arrive when a suspect is on the scene. It is the rare case where a silent alarm may allow the police to surprise a perpetrator; the police rarely arrive in time to catch a criminal in action. Lastly, by the time crime reports are turned over to a detective to do a Follow up investigation, you might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack – it‘s just too late.
In addition, this kind of old-fashioned policing gives rise to all type of lore and wives-tales, like “a family member is almost always responsible for a child abduction or disappearance.” Just tell that story to the family of Jon Benet Ramsey or to Amber Harris’, for that matter. The many recent cases of stranger abductions have eradicated that old yarn. The same is true of many other old investigative adages. If that is so, what has replaced these now debunked practices so often relied upon in past criminal investigations? It is simple: crime data.
Data-driven policing – that is – the acquisition, assortment, and access to all sorts of crime data has allowed police to replace old hunches and gut feelings with actual statistical data of trends and pattern of crimes that make the prediction and apprehension of perpetrators, solution of crimes, and detection of modus operendi available before new crimes occur possible, and that, my friends, is the whole gig – that is what has changed so dramatically in policing. Data-driven policing, new technology, policing strategies like community policing, and problem oriented policing have been the game changers in modern policing.
As a police department, you either have adapted to these changes, you are in the process of adapting to these changes, or you are without a clue. Some police departments have been dragged into change by a reform chief, mayor, or perhaps a visionary City Attorney. Other departments have been sued into reform or have had a visit from the Department of Justice. Either way, the road map to modern policing is there – ignore it at your own peril. The lesson or warning is clear: time to change. Ignore the current data and information and you risk lawsuits for negligence. Yikes!
So, where is OPD? On a scale of one to ten, one being oblivious to modern policing and ten being a fully modernized police department- OPD is a 2- yes a 2. And that isn’t even close, folks.