| The Mission: Building Effective Partnership Between Police and Community
By Jeff Adachi, SF Public Defender Nov 10, 2008
Stuffed animals and candles depicting religious icons adorn a makeshift memorial honoring a life recently cut short by a bullet. An elderly woman gingerly lays a bouquet of yellow roses on the cracked pavement beside a sun-faded Polaroid of the young man who died at the very place where his picture now lies. Young men in air brushed RIP t-shirts gather to pay their respects before continuing on to school or work.
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This solemn ritual of collective mourning has now become a regular occurrence; at least 17 street memorials have been erected in the Mission District this year alone.
Last month, a particularly deadly epidemic of violence claimed the lives of seven people, and prompted Mission residents, law enforcement, local leaders, and activists to gather at a community meeting to address the violence. Some participants demanded increased police presence, stepped-up investigations and more arrests. Others pleaded for increased city investment in services to address the root causes of violence: poverty, unemployment and lack of education and after school programs.
Despite the many suggestions presented at the meeting, it seems that real solutions to the violence remain elusive. One reason for this is the strained relationship between police and gang intervention agencies.
Mutual distrust and lack of communication have undermined efforts on both sides to reduce violence. This absence in confidence and communication was evident last year, when the proposed Mission gang injunction ignited a public debate over how to address gang violence. The injunctions were instituted with little public or community input and there was a great deal of misinformation about the injunctions and what they would do.
Those in favor of the injunction claimed that the injunctions would help reduce gang-related violence by banning gang members from associating in certain areas. Critics of the injunction countered that the injunction would inhibit their intervention work, expose them to police harassment, and unnecessarily stigmatize people who wanted to leave gangs.
The injunction polarized community activists and police, despite the fact that they are working to reduce violence and improve outcomes for young people. Both sides even agree that 1) the current level of violence in the Mission is unacceptable; 2) something needs to be done; and 3) the root causes of violence and gangs must be addressed. But how to address these concerns is where they differ.
Turning the tide of bloodshed will require more than agreement on the goal or the problem; it will require that the police department and community-based organizations that specialize in gang outreach and intervention work establish a working relationship that emphasizes coordination, collaboration and information sharing. This trust must be a two way street: the community must also work with police. This process can be begin by having both sides sit down and write a memorandum of understanding setting forth each side’s responsibilities and expectations.
This approach was recently used by the police department in Los Angeles, which experienced a 50% drop in killings last year in some South L.A. neighborhoods, such as Watts. According to reports, police attributed this reduction partly to its new strategy of working with gang interventionists to help prevent violence. When there is an outbreak of violence, police meet with gang intervention agencies to prevent further retaliation and bloodshed. Police also work closely with street outreach workers and youth counselors to resolve differences in a peaceful way and to counsel youth to stay out of gangs.
Accountability must also be a central focus of the collaboration. When new strategies are adopted by law enforcement, they must include input from the community organizations. Once a law enforcement tool is implemented, there must be an objective, regularly-conducted review of the effectiveness of that particular tool. Included in this review should be a discussion of whether the tool has resulted in harassment of law-abiding citizens living in the targeted areas. This will ensure accountability to the citizenry by the police.
For example, once the gang injunction was in place, there should have been a procedure to measure its impact. Although the gang injunctions were implemented to reduce gang warfare and violence, so far the results have been unclear. In 2007, prior to the enforcement of the Mission gang injunction, there were 6 homicides within the gang injunction safety zone. This year, there have been 8 homicides within the zone and 2 homicides just one block outside of the zone. This does not necessarily mean that the gang injunctions are ineffective. However, this should raise some concerns as to whether the gang injunction is fulfilling its intended purpose.
Furthermore, the outcomes must be measurable. Possible objective measures of the gang injunction might include: 1) the number of gang-related shootings in the area; 2) which gangs were involved; 3) the number of violence-related incidents involving persons named in the gang injunction. This would provide the community with up-to-date information as to how to best approach the problem at hand.
Only by combining the efforts of police and gang intervention workers, followed by action, accountability, and measurable outcomes, will we begin to effectively tackle the problem of reducing the violence that currently plagues the Mission. This is the only way we can prevent the need for more street memorials attesting to the tragic loss of young lives. The time to act is now.
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