Time to Rethink Local Policing Strategies | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Time to Rethink Local Policing Strategies

Last year, Jackson police and the Hinds County Sheriff's Office deployed a Louisiana crime-prevention program, which calls for more community-based policing and was based on the Ceasefire model used in some 50 cities around the country of building relationships with residents and, sometimes, gang leaders.

The B.R.A.V.E. program, adopted from Baton Rouge, started in a section of west Jackson from West Capitol Street to Interstate 20.

Our program, as law enforcement officials described it, was a little different from Baton Rouge's. For one, it was renamed to the much more violent-sounding MACE, or Metro Area Crime Elimination. Second, some citizens tell us that MACE is just as much about knocking heads as focusing on so-called quality-of-life issues.

"Quality of life" became the centerpiece of the policing strategy in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. Bratton, who returned to lead the NYPD under Mayor Bill de Blasio, is an adherent of the "broken windows" theory of order maintenance, which academics George Kelling and James Wilson popularized. The NYPD started focusing on curtailing minor crimes—like misdemeanors like riding bikes on the sidewalk and public urination—in hopes that it would reduce serious criminal behavior. In so doing, they figured out that a low-level offense was a good reason to pull over someone suspected of being connected to a gang or violent crime. It became a way to get guns off people in a city where firearms are illegal.

The officials who oversaw MACE in Jackson claim it was a success, lowering crime stats over the last year. But stats are only part of the story. In New York City, quality-of life policing and, later under other commissioners, largely race-based stop-and-frisks, might have lowered the city's crime rate but at tremendous costs. The practice violated civil liberties of mostly young men of color, and, as a result, city taxpayers are footing the bill for lawsuits (and settlements).

We have heard similar complaints in west Jackson about MACE and the ubiquity of siren-flashing cop cars and the ramped-up frequency of interactions with law enforcement. This concerns us: The point of Ceasefire programs is to get in front of crimes and prevent them, not to be a new brand of stop-and-frisk. There must be at least as much carrot in the deal for young people as there is stick.

This week, Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis said he is awaiting funding before ratcheting MACE back up. Before that happens, Lewis and Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance should clearly identify the goals and methods of the program and get input from community members.

Above all, the next phase of MACE should follow with its original intent of a long-term partnership between police, neighbors and young people. It's the only way the program can lower crime without hurting those it's designed to help.

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