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Professor says community is answer to crime

UNM researches merits of police bonding with citizens

A UNM sociology professor studying community policing said filling the streets with police is not necessarily the answer to fighting crime.

Professor Richard Wood said, although more police working at once can help fight crime, the best way is for police to build a bond with the communities they serve.

"Albuquerque, like most cities, has some history of significant distance or lack of understanding between the police departments and especially poor communities but also the mentally-ill in town," Wood said. "One way to try and improve that is this whole community policing effort."

Wood is the principal investigator for a collaborative project between UNM and the Albuquerque Police Department. Along with a team of researchers, Wood has been researching community policing since 1997, when the APD-UNM Research Partnership received a grant for $151,000 from the National Institute of Justice. The project was funded again in 1999 with another grant from the National Institute of Justice for $177,000.

Community policing uses three strategies to deter crime - communication between police and neighborhood residents, collaboration between police and city government and the initiation of police officers to make more contact with residents and people in the streets.

Wood said, while community policing sounds like a reasonable solution for fighting crime, it is hard to achieve.

"It's extraordinarily difficult to implement successfully, it takes a lot of trial and error," he said. "The Albuquerque Police Department is striving to implement community policing models and that's difficult. It's not easy to change the way police officers work."

He added that it can be difficult to get police officers with years of experience to try a new way of doing things. Some experienced officers might think community policing is stupid, Wood said.

However, the idea off community policing is not new.

"Everybody's got this big kick on community policing, but community policing has been around since the turn of the century," said Lt. James Daniels, spokesman for the UNM Police Department.

Daniels described the depiction of police officers in old movies as people who knew everyone in the town and took time to visit with store owners and kids in the streets.

Warren Wylupski, a graduate student at UNM and research assistant studying community policing, said increased technology is one reason police departments stopped using community policing. He said electronic devices have made it easier for officers to be assigned to crime scenes at random instead of officers being assigned to a specific community.

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"Community policing came about because police officers used to walk a beat and interact with people," Wylupski said. "Once they got radios, they got separated from the public. One of the purposes of community policing is to bring them back together."

Daniels agreed that technology has slowed the implementation of community policing.

"Unfortunately, if you look at a city like Albuquerque, Boston or Chicago, it gets to the point where you can't do that," Daniels said.

He added that cities with millions of people make it difficult for police to build relationships with residents.

"The basic thing is just getting out there," Daniels said. "We're trying to get back to it."

Daniels, Wood and Wylupski all said that most police departments are not fully staffed, which also could hinder the effects of community policing.

"Community policing might be hindered because of the shortage of officers and the fact that they feel they are under-paid," Warren said. "They've got excellent training but they have these other things that are holding them back."


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