Dispelling old myths, a chief defines community policing

By Michael J. Heidingsfield
During the preparation of our department’s “how-to” handbook on community policing, I was asked to draft an introduction, which would communicate my personal philosophy regarding this approach to policing and its role here at the Scottsdale Police Department.

This is not as easy a task as it may sound, because the community-policing concept itself is fluid and does not lend itself easily to definition. My experience, however, suggests that community-based policing is a relatively easy philosophy to understand and appreciate once we dispel the myths associated with it.

We should dispense with the consultants who tour the country earning huge fees for telling us what we should already know about community-based policing. And we should toss out the notion that if a department has a particular program or programs then that agency must be involved in community-based policing. Finally, we should never forget that this is really only about one thing: our obligation to make people safe and their community secure within the constitutional limits imposed by our Founding Fathers, and accomplishing that through every strategy and tactic available to us lawfully.

(Michael J. Heidingsfield is the Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety in Scottsdale, Ariz.)


Police officers & the legislative process
Street-level perspectives could offer invaluable & practical “war-gaming” advice to lawmakers

By Jeffrey D. Coons Sr.
Some months ago, I watched a news item about a proposal to drop the legal intoxication level in Rhode Island from .10 percent to .08 percent blood alcohol. The proponents claimed  that such a move would demonstrate that Rhode Island was tough on drunken drivers. Several police chiefs were shown together with the attorney general as they all declared that the war on drunk driving had won a major battle. A physician and medical school professor wrote in a newspaper op-ed article, “Lowering the legal intoxication limit would reduce…death and destruction and reduce the national health care costs of alcoholism, estimated to be over $10 billion annually.” I was not so impressed and found it hard to accept that these chiefs actually believed that the new limit would make a difference.

I thought that with all their experience they knew that most drunken drivers  up to 95 percent  refuse to take a Breathalyzer test to determine their blood alcohol. So, I wondered, what does it matter that the blood alcohol level is lowered if the suspected drunken driver refuses to take the test?  How could the chiefs report that this change will make a difference in lowering the number of drunks on Rhode Island’s roads?

So it goes with other laws. It sometimes seems that we make law in a knee-jerk manner without any reflective thought. Examples illustrate what I believe to be a need for a review by law enforcement personnel of all legislative proposals regarding criminal and motor-vehicle statutes.

Such a panel could provide the bill’s sponsors with invaluable war-gaming advice on what impact their law would have. Questions pertaining to enforceability, necessity and effectiveness would be addressed by the panel, which would offer recommendations on how to correct any deficiencies. All these tasks could be accomplished easily and at minimal cost to the taxpayer.

A panel of practicing law enforcement officers would be better able to limit the politics and would carry no hidden agenda. The results would be bills that are based on sound principles and not someone’s hidden attempt to gain popularity.

(Jeffrey D. Coons Sr. is a police patrol officer in South Kingstown, R.I., and a founding member of the American Police Association, a group dedicated to advancing policing through college-educated officers. Coons is pursuing a master’s degree in the administration of justice at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.)

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Excerpted from Law Enforcement News
Oct 10, 1997. 
© 1997, LEN Inc.  [ Subscribe.]