August 1, 2003 - From the August, 2003 issue

Redlands Police Chief Also Manages Housing & Recreation

Faced with ever dwindling budgets, city and regional governments are constantly seeking cost-effective ways to improve the efficiency of their governments. In an effort to reap the benefits -- both social and financial -- of creating and maintaining safe and sustainable neighborhoods, the city of Redlands consolidated its housing and recreation departments under the management of the police chief. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann, in which he explains both the vision and efficacy of this unorthodox consolidation of local municipal services.


Jim Bueermann

Chief, share with our readers how it came to be that the Redlands police chief's duties include not only crime fighting but oversight of city housing and recreation. How exactly does the city's police department interact with city planners and park personnel to build sustainable neighborhoods in Redlands?

It really goes back to an epiphany we had about the nature of our services and what was our purpose in the community. Several years ago, it became apparent to us that this community expected us to control crime. The research about the control of crime clearly distinguishes at least three parts to a balanced and comprehensive crime-control model: prevention, intervention, and suppressive strategies. Most police departments, including ours, have the suppression side of that equation down pat. In fact, most of my career has been spent on suppression. We determined that if we were going to be stewards of the community's investment in public safety and fulfill our mandate to control crime -- not simply displace it through suppression strategies that moved it from one neighborhood to another -- we needed to rethink our organizational structure.

First and foremost, we adopted a research-based model that identifies what are called "risk and protective factors" in a community -- the things that place young people and their families in neighborhoods at risk for crime. When we did that, and then integrated our crime mapping technology into it, we actually were able to measure and examine the aggregation and the existence of these risk factors in different neighborhoods. So, now we were mapping the social factors, the precursors or antecedents to the crime. When we adopted that model, it was clear to us that we did not have enough tools in our organizational toolbox to do what we perceived to be a clarified mandate of the police's control of crime. We certainly had suppression tools, but we did not have the prevention and intervention tools.

We then went to the City Council with this research-based model and proposed integrating recreation, housing, and senior services into our department. The model we use is called "Risk-Focused Policing," referring to the identification of those things that place our community at risk for crime and public disorder and attacking them using a comprehensive approach. We do that using a community policing framework and working with the community rather than addressing the needs independent of the community's involvement.

Chief, elaborate more on the nature of that dialogue with the Council about reorganization of responsibilities. Traditionally, cities, housing departments, school districts, and recreation authorities have operated in hermetically sealed silos. How did Redlands overcome the practice of narrowly defining bureaucratic responsibility?

Quite frankly, it's a marketing issue. We had to re-position the notion of housing and recreation as playing an integral role in public safety. Recreation services, for us, are not about creating leisure services for kids, but about creating positive pro-social activities for young people in those critical after school hours when we know most adolescent crime occurs. Housing programs were not about the bricks and mortar that created those projects, but about creating that transformational change. One of the things that you see clearly in neighborhoods that have high levels of crime is that they're disorganized -- that there's little attachment to the neighborhood. Neighborhoods with lower crime rates are more stable and have fewer families moving in and out. People in lower crime neighborhoods also tend to vote at a higher rate because they have a greater connection to the civic process in the community.

When we first showed the Council our model, we literally saw them experience the same thing we had -- a changing of the lens through which they view public safety. They began to understand that there is much more to controlling crime than simply putting more cops on the street, which is the most expensive strategy possible. Like every community, ours was struggling to do more with less, and public safety is the most expensive part of our budget. Once we made the case that we could do more with the same resources by working smarter, by using a research-based approach, and by thinking differently about how we use existing city resources, we were all on the same page.

What now is the scope of the Redlands police department's responsibilities?

In the police department, we have traditional policing services, housing, recreation, senior services, code enforcement, and animal control. If one of government's principal roles is to create a safe environment to people to live and work, then we needed to get better at policing, get smarter about the factors that create crime, and then go attack those.

Chief, is there any evidence that this integrated organizational structure is working?

Before initiating the program citywide, we used one of our worst areas as an initial experiment. During the study period, we saw serious crime drop 50% more in that area than it did in the surrounding areas, suggesting to us that this comprehensive and broad approach to controlling crime had some significant impact. Now, the US Department of Justice just funded a $400,000 study of our policing model and we are awaiting their results.

How do your colleagues typically react, when you attend police chief association meetings around the country, to Redlands' innovative departmental reorganization? Are you a hero or a pariah?

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There have been a variety of responses to this. Police chiefs are like everybody else -- they come in a wide range of personality types. There are some who are very closed-minded and very traditionally-oriented. And, there are those who believe that if we're going to fulfill our mandates to make our communities safe, then we've got to continue to look for new and innovative ways of controlling crime. In some departments, they clearly think this is the craziest thing they've ever seen and not the role of the police.

The most positive responses to our management structure always come from agencies outside of police work -- from city managers, city councilpersons, mayors, community leaders, or other people not involved in the world of policing. These people tend to see this as a way to leverage their existing police resources and be good stewards of the taxpayers' investment in public safety.

Police chiefs have a very interesting employment status in California. Most of them are at-will employees, so they're usually motivated not to be risk-takers. This strategy was somewhat of a risk because it was new and innovative. But, our City Council was very supportive of trying something new. In some cities the territoriality that exists among departments is such that it would be very difficult to consolidate these kinds of approaches.

Consolidating makes a lot of sense because you bring together these services under one central command. To not do something like that would be like having your detective, traffic officers, and patrol officers all working for three different departments, and yet all purporting to work on the control of crime. It doesn't make any sense because it's very difficult to get organizational alignment of goals when you do that. That same issue applies to what are you trying to achieve with housing and recreation services. If you're just trying to create physical structures that have no real bearing on the social forces that create crime, then it probably wouldn't make any difference. If, on the other hand, communities want to use their redevelopment money to create changes in challenged neighborhoods, then almost all of those changes will have some connection to crime.

Your police department's new oversight of housing, recreation, code enforcement, etc., leaves one related neighborhood public service unincorporated. Does your department have a relationship with the local school district. Organizations like New Schools-Better Neighborhoods and educational leaders like former U.S. Secretary of Education Riley are currently promoting the concept of schools being vital centers of neighborhoods and neighborhoods being the centers of student's learning environments. And billions of state and local school bond funds are being expended this decade for new and modernized school facilities. Ought there be a close relationship between schools and your place-based policing strategy?

There is. In neighborhoods where there is a high turnover rate of families, the transition and the mobility rate of students can be very high, too. It can be very difficult for kids to bond with schools and teachers when they frequently switch schools. Without some effort to try to stabilize the neighborhoods where people are moving around, it's very difficult for the school district to become the center of what's happening in the neighborhood. So, there has to be a connection between what happens with housing issues and with schools.

It makes eminently good sense for Redlands to have a place based policing strategy, for the City to break down the silo-like barriers that inhibit the delivery of a comprehensive set of services to neighborhoods. Arguably, it also makes sense to collaborate with school district's on the siting, design, and building or modernization of new neighborhood school facilities . Elaborate on why this cooperation is so much more difficult to achieve.

In our particular school district, boundaries are much larger than the city boundaries. We have elementary school kids who are going to schools outside the city limits and feeding into middle schools that are inside the city limits. It can be rather complicated because, in that scenario, there are three city councils and a school board that have some part to play. In our area, there isn't a great deal of connection.

Your city and department are obviously on the cutting edge of both policing and smart growth in California. Given your dialogues to date with other police chiefs and city officials, are we likely to see similar consolidations of responsibilities within cities in Southern California?

It holds greater promise with each passing day. There are a few reasons for this but, first and foremost, is the financial situation that most cities and schools districts are finding themselves in as a result of the state's budget problems. Police departments are probably the single-largest expenditure for most communities out of their general fund. As crime rates go up, police departments are going to be increasingly under pressure by city councils and mayors to find better, more effective ways to leverage their existing resources.

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