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Learning from Ethical Consultants 

A former deputy chief of NOPD says the current rush to bring in 'outside consultants' is a case of deja vu all over again.

Does anyone recall last September when the City Council invited the Vera Institute of Justice and Dr. Lee P. Brown to its crime summit to tell us that making arrests won't help solve any of our crime problems? The not-so subtle implication was that we needed to employ them to help us depopulate our corrections facilities.

Really? Think the folks at that meeting smelled another $230,000 politically inspired contract deal? That's how much we're now paying Dr. Brown. Some incensed citizens present were left wondering what we should do instead with all the multiple homicide offenders running loose and taking over our neighborhoods. (For a look at how some in Houston view Brown, see: http://search.houstonpress.com/Issues/2007-01-25/news/hairballs_print.html).

Most realistic students of urban violence remember former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's eminently successful "quality-of-life" initiatives -- successful crime-mitigation strategies that apparently are no longer fashionable to the pricey upper echelon of commercial criminologists. Gone are the days of "zero tolerance."

The current philosophies apparently embrace the "we can't arrest our way out of this problem" school of thought. This is the current mantra from a police department that has tried, until recently, to convince the public that the NOPD controls the murder rate. ("We just need more money, personnel raises, promotions and equipment.") Some citizens no doubt fail to see the benefits of rewarding poor performance, even when it plays well with the public under our present state of siege.

It's time for a look back at some of the public-safety benefits the city previously bought from a few of these outside experts not that long ago -- especially now that the city has hired a new, self-proclaimed implementer of the "community policing concept." Lest we forget, some earlier experimentation brought us many of the same public-safety problems we are now facing.

If the city really wants more "national experts," why didn't someone call former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg of Charleston, S.C.? He is probably the most respected retired police chief in the country, and he has a proven record of success. We've already given focus-group guru John Linder and the late Jack Maple (two very expensive New York consultants) two chances at inspiring and/or motivating our political and law-enforcement leadership. Should we do it all over again and expect a different outcome?

Here's another question for whoever continues to recruit and pay top dollar to consultants: Has anyone contacted the Police Executive Research Forum, the Rand Institute, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Institute for Law and Justice, the (national) Police Foundation or even the U.S. Department of Justice?

If NOPD is the world-class expert in crowd-control based on unique experience, and if it handles more murders per capita than any community in North America, then why do we even need to look for help beyond our metro area? Given their well intended but somewhat misguided track record, one may wonder if the Baptist Community Ministries and the Police and Justice Foundation have been assessing our problems correctly or rubber-stamping police requests. For such an excellent, business-minded pool of good citizens, their recurring reactionary logic is amazing. They should attempt to validate a measure of ethical performance next time -- and there probably will be a next time.

Look at the track record of unsupervised outside consultants. They brought us police decentralization and COMSTAT. In the process, they taught the NOPD administration how to manipulate and declassify crime to its lowest common denominator. Felonies were downgraded to misdemeanors as burglaries were reported as "trespassing." Almost instantly, the felony crime "dropped" in New Orleans.

At the same time, NOPD quit providing arrest information to the FBI -- and the public -- in the feds' Uniform Crime Report (Part II). Instead, NOPD focused on the FBI's seven-category "major-crime" Part I Index figures. NOPD then began disclosing only those seven offenses in the mandatory-reporting schedule. Over time, the department crafted a statistically irreducible level of reported "serious" crime so low that virtually no one could complain. In the process, two NOPD superintendents received national awards in Washington, D.C. The press and the public were delighted -- but deceived by the Department's "successes."

Now the "actual" crime rate is so much higher than the "reported" crime rate that citizens -- and, hopefully, the media and other institutions -- cannot ignore, or be fooled by, the disconnect between what police brass feed us and the reality of a gun stuck in our face or in the faces of people we know.

Decentralization raised the levels of falsified crime reporting to a critical mass. The sham became so enormous that citizens couldn't even get copies of their own offense reports because they had been declassified down to "unreportable" minor incidents, oftentimes municipal misdemeanors. Falsifying crime data is a criminal offense, malfeasance and a despicable breach of public faith and guardianship for any law-enforcement agency. Lost integrity further erodes public confidence, and the credibility gap widens.

The only group with the courage and means to persistently go public with "whistle-blower" allegations -- presumably from present and/or former officers -- was the Metropolitan Crime Commission. The city's response? Numerous officers were fired and later reinstated on appeal when the city recognized that the extent of high-level statistical contamination was so corrosive as to taint ranking officers who were then in executive positions within a new administration. The cover for the "crime reduction" subterfuge came to be awards given to district captains and others for "crime prevention" -- a wrong-headed incentive crafted by police administrators to drive reported crime down any way they could. Ultimately, the "competition" among districts to reduce reported crime provided an incentive to underreport criminal activity.

The department was further enabled to perpetrate this fraud upon the citizens with official help from City Hall. In order to hold district police captains "accountable" for crime in their areas, NOPD approved pay raises (hush money?) for the eight captains commanding the districts -- while all other captains remained at the lower payroll grade published by Civil Service. Some of the other police captains -- those interested in maintaining their reputations and integrity -- no doubt were relieved that they were not called upon to command the high-crime districts, where the pressure to lower crime incidence was greatest. This practice was either known or rumored throughout the NOPD for several years prior to the present administration.

Decentralization also resulted in abolition of the homicide division and other specialized units whose manpower complements were transferred into the eight police district stations. The later re-creation of headquarters-based homicide and narcotics units gave rise to a competency void that takes years to restore. You don't recruit and train detectives to be effective investigators in just a year or two. Neither the Department nor the public can hold these officers responsible for dismally poor clearance rates or suppressive enforcement if they lack the experience and maturity to perform well.

So if anyone says that a deficient management climate or a drop in ethical standards is a result of Katrina, point to the dozen or so uniformed officers who for years delivered prescriptions and receipts to the eastern New Orleans pain clinic physician (in Baton Rouge) as part of a "paid detail." How about the officers who protected the Bourbon Street razzle-dazzle games? Or, just ask what happened after senior officers authorized the destruction of hundreds of criminal-evidence packages to make more space in the NOPD Property Room -- well before Katrina's water ruined what was left.

Returning to our initial question, do we need another expensive consultant to impart leadership development and ethics training to our administrators or to teach the difference between right and wrong?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

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