Instead of defunding, reimagine policing with C3

Instead of defunding, reimagine policing with C3
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First, the city of Minneapolis voted to defund the police. New York City officials announced it will move one-third of the Police Department’s budget and direct it towards social programs. Besides defunding, other cities around the country are now pondering how they might implement changes in their police departments.

In several cases, these jurisdictions have bought into the rhetoric that you need to remove funding from law enforcement and place it in other programs, absorbing some of the work that, for decades, law enforcement has been asked to do. This would include addressing homelessness, substance abuse and domestic situations — to name a few. Regardless of what this funding ultimately covers, the reimagining of what policing and public safety “could be” is the goal. 

Some are advocating for a more holistic form of policing that would be more heavily community-oriented, which some cite Camden, N.J., as the example. The problem in Camden's case, however, is its police department was largely defunded in 2011 in order to break the union contracts and root out corruption — it didn't exactly work. After the department was defunded and gutted, crime and excessive force complaints skyrocketed. It took years for the department to be “reimagined” and emerge as one that is new, and which learned to work by and through the community to lower crime and make the city safer 

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In reality, had Camden or other law enforcement agencies looked to Springfield, Mass., they could have quickly "reimagined" — and implemented — community-oriented police strategies that have been in use since 2009.

Counter Criminal Continuum Policing (C3) is the creation of Army Veteran and retired Massachusetts State Trooper Mike Cutone. C3 is a policing model that Cutone developed based on techniques he learned while deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army Special Forces. As the U.S. Military learned to “police” that country, it became clear to Cutone that the only way to accomplish that was to mobilize the citizens in the fight against violent crime and create community-oriented policing efforts that addressed crime and other issues that drove crime in communities. 

Within a few years, the results were pronounced. In the North End of Springfield, where armed gangs dominated the streets, from 2008 to 2014 the C3 effort knocked overall crime down by 21 percent.  

To accomplish this, Cutone and the Massachusetts State Police partnered with the Springfield Police Department. They handpicked officers to be trained and deployed in the communities as C3 teams.

Although the goal of the initiative was to stop violent crime and take drug dealers off the streets, the officers selected were also taught how to engage with the community, form relationships, address problems, fight crime and recognize that the community was their greatest asset. 

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Recognizing that this effort would only be successful with the community's buy-in, the C3 teams started to “walk and talk” to the people living in the community, who then quickly educated the officers about the good and bad aspects that needed to be addressed. This included former gang members, who recognized that the officers coming into their community from both the Massachusetts State and Springfield Police Departments were serious about helping them fix what was broken.

One of the cornerstones of this effort was the weekly community meetings. The police could handle the crime issues, but fixing streets, enhancing businesses and addressing social issues were not in their wheelhouse. Using their status in law enforcement, the C3 teams enlisted support from federal, state and city departments, social services, school systems, medical services and every other facet of government, and employed a “task force” approach to direct the proper resource to fix specific problems.

This was a true “holistic” approach and as Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said to me in an interview, “Historically, task force approaches to crime reduction have worked. They leverage the capabilities of multiple agencies and if you can include a whole of government approach, the successes are amplified.”

In a time when the mantra of “defund the police” and reimagining law enforcement can be heard in communities across the nation, instead of focusing on destroying law enforcement, perhaps a better approach would be to learn from policing strategies with a proven track record and implement them.

Donald J. Mihalek is a retired senior Secret Service Regional Training, tactics and firearms instructor. He also serves as the executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.