Shelly Franklin

The Lakewood Police Department and the Dr. Martin Luther King Drive Community Working in Partnership

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

The Lakewood Police Department, through its Community Policing Unit, has established a partnership with the residents and the stakeholders of the Dr. Martin Luther King Drive area. The main purpose of this partnership is based around the need to address the perceptions of fear and crime that have permeated this area for several years. The famous African-American comedian, Chris Rock, does a monologue where he discusses Dr. Martin Luther King. He talks about the fact that almost every urban area in America has a street named after the late civil rights leader. He then talks about the irony in the fact that the late Dr. King had dedicated his life to the idea of nonviolence, but almost every street named after him is located in the most violent neighborhood in that community.

While this was not the case in Lakewood, many of the residents of the area and many people who do not live in the area are of the perception that this is in fact the most violent neighborhood in the municipality. This perception has not escaped the administration of the Lakewood Police Department. A decision was made in January of 1996 to create a Community Policing district within the adjoining Dr. Martin Luther King Drive area. The police personnel were given a mandate to develop a working relationship with all of the area stakeholders so that a partnership could be cultivated to improve quality of life for the neighborhood.

This area consists of apartments and single family homes. There are 250 apartments in two adjoining complexes, Lakewood Plaza I and Lakewood Plaza II. The tenants are all low income. Many of them are receiving housing subsidies. There are approximately 190 single family homes in the area. Between 60 and 70 percent of the single family homes are owner-occupied. The apartments are more than 30 years old. Many of the houses are as old as the apartments while others have been built within the last two or three years. The residents of the single family homes are either low- or low-middle income residents. The area is almost 100 percent African-American or Hispanic.

Many of the tenants of Lakewood Plaza I have been living there for more than 20 years. Most of the tenants of the other complex are much more transient. This transient condition causes numerous problems—the primary one being the instability caused in the neighborhood. Thus many of these residents do not have the sense of neighborhood and belonging that the other more long term residents have. This, in turn, creates an environment that fosters street level crime.

The residents began to view the police as ineffective. The residents began to get the feeling that the police did not care about them or their neighborhood. They responded by being uncooperative when major crimes occurred within the area. Witnesses were difficult, if not impossible, to find. The residents viewed the police as the enemy.

The administration of the Lakewood Police Department understood that four major factors had developed. First was the fact that most of those causing problems in the area did not live there. This information became evident from arrest reports and from the intelligence that individual officers were gathering from their informants.

Second, an overwhelming majority of the residents were opposed to the crime and disorder that was occurring within the area on a daily basis. When individual officers, especially supervisors and commanders, spent time talking with the residents, an overall theme was repeated. They wanted to know what was being done to get rid of the trouble makers.

Third, the Lakewood Police Department had failed to address the core causes of the crime problem. It was treating the symptoms of the problems of crime and disorder and not the causes. It was going to be necessary to do more to determine exactly what the causes were. This meant developing greatly improved channels of communication with all of the stakeholders in the neighborhood.

Fourth, the majority of the officers within the agency did not understand the culture of the African-American and Hispanic communities. Unfortunately the majority of the officers in the agency are white males, thus, there was a weak foundation upon which to develop the needed understanding of these cultures.

2. When was the program created and why?

The administration of the Lakewood Police Department quickly realized that a completely new approach was required if this trend was going to be reversed. Thus, the Community Policing Unit was developed to address the crime and disorder problems that existed within the area of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. This unit has a basic mission to reduce and eliminate crime and disorder and establish a positive influence upon the quality of life for all of the stakeholders within the neighborhood. This was to be accomplished through the use of collaborative problem-solving and partnership building.

Each officer including the Community Policing Commander were sent through intensive training. They were all sent to the New Jersey Regional Community Policing Institute two week Community Policing training course. This included modules on Problem-Solving, Partnership Building, Resource Allocation and Cultural Diversity.

In 1996 the Lakewood Police Department applied for and received a Problem-Solving Partnership Grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS). In addition the agency was chosen as one of 16 municipalities out of 470 to be included in the cross-site evaluation section of this grant.

This grant required the police department to develop a working partnership with a community-based organization within the neighborhood. We chose to bring three partners on board. They included the Lakewood Plaza I Tenants Association, the Lakewood Plaza II Tenants Association and the West Cedarbridge Homeowners Association. Three partners were chosen instead of one, so that a broad-based understanding of the problems facing the area residents could be developed.

The grant also required the Lakewood Police Department to develop an effective problem-solving approach to one crime problem within the neighborhood. The police department and its partners decided to focus on street level drug dealing. It was hoped that by focusing on street level drug dealing we would also be able to address associated problems, such as loitering, street level assaults, robberies and excessive noise.

Additional extensive problem-solving training was given to each officer assigned to the unit. The same training was given to a representative group from each of the partners. Additional training will be given to the residents and officers in the area of collaborative problem-solving. The residents will also receive training on Building Successful Neighborhood Organizations. This training is being supplied by COPS through the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

The next step was development of a survey instrument administered to approximately 300 households. This instrument will enable the Lakewood Police Department to get a better understanding of what the real fears, concerns and needs of this neighborhood are. It will also be used to gauge what kind of performance rating the neighborhood residents have given to the police department. Finally, it will determine what kind of collaborative problem-solving measure can be cultivated between the residents and the police. The Lakewood Police Department has conducted business like most other traditional law enforcement agencies in the United States. It would determine the problems of a particular area and then tell the concerned citizens how they were going to fix it. We are now realizing that different neighborhoods have different concerns and fears based upon their culture, demographics, locations and other more intangible elements.

The next step in the process is the formation of focus groups to hold in-depth discussions about the results of the surveys. These discussions will lead to the final development of a collaborative problem-solving vehicle to apply toward the concerns of the citizens and the police. The focus groups will include three different populations—the residents, the police and the residents and police together. This will help to open the lines of communication between the two groups. It is important that the police and the stakeholders understand each other’s concerns for any true collaborative problem-solving.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

Approximately nine months after the problem-solving process has started, a second survey instrument will be distributed. It will be used to determine if the problem-solving measure which was ultimately implemented was successful or not. It will seek to determine how the police are now rated by the community. It will also ask the residents to rank their fears and concerns after the problem-solving measures were put into place.

A second set of focus groups will also be conducted in an effort to get more refined and precise answers to the questions posed above.

4. How is the program financed?

This program is financed through the above mentioned Problem-Solving Partnership Grant from the COPS office. The Lakewood Police Department received $70,000 for the original grant application. When we were selected for the cross-site evaluation section of the grant, we received an additional $50,000 plus additional technical assistance.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

The community has been involved in this project from the very beginning. They were made partners in the original grant application. They received almost the same training as the officers. They were surveyed for their opinions.

An additional form of community involvement was the creation of a Community Policing Advisory Board. This board consists of representatives of all of the stakeholder groups including the Lakewood Police Department, the management companies of the two apartment complexes, the school system, two neighborhood churches, the two tenants associations, the homeowner’s association and the county prosecutor’s office.

This board advises the police department on issues and problems that affect the quality of life within the community. They set goals and objective. These goals and objectives range in scope from lowering of the neighborhood crime rate to the formation of parenting classes for unwed fathers.

    6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

    There were four major lessons learned from this project. The first lesson is the idea that cultural diversity programs and collaborative problem-solving projects are very fluid. One must be prepared for failures and mistakes. One must be prepared to admit mistakes and take whatever action necessary to correct them. It will be necessary to review and rework the program on a regular basis.

    Second, keep the project small and manageable. There is a constant temptation to make these kinds of programs all encompassing. As a result they become unmanageable and ultimately fail. Instead of including the entire municipality, work with one neighborhood or one apartment complex and build upon each success.

    Third, be sure to involve line patrol officers and local residents in the entire process. Too often such programs are decided by the command officers and community leaders. This only creates a feeling of animosity from the residents and the line officers. Therefore, there will be no acceptance. If the two groups are allowed to develop the project together from the ground up the buy in will be much greater.

    Finally, the most important lesson of all is the need to open the lines of communication. Law enforcement must stop acting as the overbearing parent. Telling a community what their problems are and what the police will do to fix them does not work. We must learn to establish the second half of the communication process, listening. Find out what the community wants and act upon it. Different things are important to different cultures, neighborhoods, races and religions.

      7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

      Encourage the officers in your individual police departments to become involved with the communities that they patrol. It is impossible to learn about the culture of any community from the inside of a patrol vehicle. Officers must be directed to get out of the vehicle and spend time talking and listening to the community.

      Trust the officers on the street to make the right decisions. Push as much of the decision making process as far down the chain of command as possible. If officers are allowed to be "risk takers" and "decision makers," they are more likely to buy into the true mission of the agency.

      Finally, look for creative ways to free officers up from the routine 911 calls. If patrol officers spend all of their time running from 911 call to 911, they will never be able to spend the needed time to learn about the wants, needs and culture of the community. Therefore, the tolerance and respect for diversity will never be achieved. It will always be perceived as an "us and them" situation.

          For more information, please contact:

          Lt. John P. Garruto
          Commander of Community Policing Operations
          231 Third Street/P.O. Box 540
          Lakewood, New Jersey 08055
          Telephone: (732) 363-0200
          Fax: ( 732) 905-5990

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