It's one thing, according to Andy Mills, chief of police in Eureka, Calif., to lock down a neighborhood and try to initiate police contact with every resident.
It's an entirely different approach to bring all of the resources of city government onto a troubled street and invite residents to participate in local problem solving.
The first approach invites resentment, Mills said. The second opens doors to better communication between residents and police.
Mills hopes the Batavia's plans for what officials have called "neighborhood sweeps" is more like what the city of San Antonio, Texas, has been doing, which is setting up mobile city halls in troubled residential areas.
"It all depends on the intent of the effort," Mills said. "If it's a temporary city hall where people can come to you and tell you what the issues are and what they would like to see addressed, I think that's a wonderful idea. If the effort is going to be going in and throwing up an iron curtain and body checking everybody (who) is coming through, I wouldn't see that as viable. At least, I wouldn't do it."
Mills was encouraged by a statement from City Manager Jason Molino that he read where Molino said the goal was to get folks out of their homes and communicate with local officials. That's the right approach, Mills said.
Mills is a former captain with the San Diego Police Dept., where he worked, among other assignments, in the gangs and intelligence units. He has done consulting work all over the the United States in problem-oriented policing and managed a patrol team that won the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing. He's also won the Police Executive Research Forum’s national Gary P. Hayes Award for his contributions to improving the quality of police service.
(I was introduced to Mills this week by Rana Sampson, a nationally known expert in community-oriented policing, whom I met in 1996 when I wrote a profile of her for San Diego Magazine.)
Eureka is a small city, especially by California standards, with a population of 27,000. It's located on the coast in Northern California.
Just this week, Mills said, he met with a group of Eureka residents sharing some of the same kinds of concerns arising in Batavia.
The good news is, Mills said, Batavia, like Eureka, has a community of people concerned enough about their community to get involved.
Shawn Heubusch, Batavia's chief, has said BPD's response to neighborhood problems will be data-driven. Data on crime and complaints and the suspected location of people known to cause problems will be used to select neighborhoods for sweeps.
Using data to identify problem areas is the right approach, Mills said.
"You should certainly focus a lot of your resources on those locations," Mills said. "That would go to the heart of problem-oriented policing."
Identifying landlords who won't bring buildings into code compliance is also a good approach.
"You want to remove the environment that makes those neighborhoods friendly to ne'er-do-wells," Mills said.
He added, "You certainly want to create an environment where criminals feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, you want to make sure government works for all people. You certainly look at criminal behavior rather than a criminal profile. You tackle behaviors. If somebody is selling dope at a particular location or creating social disorder by hanging out, you tackle those specific problems."
The mission of making the environment uncomfortable for criminals, of course, should not disrupt the rights of individuals, he said.
As for the seeming rise in gun play in the Batavia, it's certainly something to pay attention to, Mills said, but he also praised Batavia PD for reacting strongly to the rise in gun-related incidents.
"I applaud them for being attuned and aware of what they're facing," Mills said.
He said, it's important, though, not to overreact.
"If you're having an isolated problem, then get rid of the problem," Mills said. "If you're seeing a trend, then deal with the trend."
That's where analyzing data and being thoughtful about what it means comes into play, Mills said.
"I think what you need to do is establish overall trends," Mills said. "If you're starting to see trends that are a concern, take a look at that. I would want to see more over a longer period of time before we made any harsh decisions that could have a long-term impact on a community. That's not to say a neighborhood sweep is a harsh decision. I'm just talking in general."
On video surveillance cameras, there's no doubt they are very successful at reducing crime, Mills said.
"I don't have a problem with them," Mills said. "There are some liberty issues that your local community will need to wrestle with, but I'm generally in favor of using cameras under the right circumstances."
Cameras, he said, should be monitored.
When told that wasn't the plan in Batavia, that rather, recordings would be reviewed after the fact of a crime, Mills said he understands the resources it would take a small police department to monitor surveillance cameras around the clock, but there's also a solution to that problem.
"Ask volunteer community members to monitor the streams over the Web," Mills suggested. "There are a variety of options, but getting a camera is the step in the right direction."
Among the resources Mills recommend is the Web site for the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing and particularly the article "25 Techniques of Situational Prevention."
"Batavia sounds like a wonderful city," Mills said. "People really care about their neighborhoods. If you look at the research, where people are looking out for each other, crime is reduced."