A fledgling program to tamp down criminal “hot spots” by increasing police presence in targeted parts of Tacoma might fall victim to city budget troubles.
The program showed some success in a trial on the Hilltop this fall, but police layoffs necessitated by a $31 million shortfall in the 2011-12 city budget might halt the effort.
“Everything is on hold,” Tacoma police Capt. Pete Cribbin said last week.
Neighbors in one of the targeted areas noticed the increased police presence and liked it.
“I hope they don’t lay them off because we need them,” said Arlie Brown, who has lived in his home on South Cushman Avenue since 1965.
Cribbin said that police agencies across the country have been using more crime analysis, data and predictive policing models to target their enforcement efforts. Commanders use the data to spot crime patterns and trends and then direct their resources to those areas.
One of the approaches has been to target “hot spots,” areas where criminal activity is concentrated at a specific address or small geographical area. Other jurisdictions have found putting added attention to their “hot spots” to be an efficient and effective way to address the crime issues.
“You go and spend time there,” Cribbin said. “You are not there for a specific call. You are just there.”
The Tacoma Police Department decided to try the approach.
Commanders selected three areas of the Hilltop that had generated 585 complaint emails to the Sector 1 Lt. Rob Jepson. The department did not select the locations based on reported crimes to 911.
The three areas were:
• South Eighth Street between Sprague Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
• The area bordered by Sixth Avenue, South Ninth Street, South J Street and Tacoma Avenue.
• The area bordered by South 12th Street, South 15th Street, South Cushman Avenue and South L Street.
The department directed patrol officers to spend at least 20 minutes per hour – for all but four hours of the day – in each of the areas.
The uniformed officers were asked to get out of their cars and walk around.
Cribbin said the officers’ consistent presence kept the bad guys off balance.
“It disrupts the atmosphere where criminal behavior is tolerated and, ultimately, it moves it,” Cribbin said.
A city crime-prevention specialist also met with neighbors in the Eighth Street corridor to remind them of the small things they could do to keep an eye on criminals and prevent suspicious activity from dragging down their neighborhood.
He asked them to trim their scrubs, turn on their outside lights and report burned-out street lights, among other things.
The pilot project ran from Oct. 24 to Nov. 21. The city’s Community-Based Services program kicked in $20,000 to cover some of the costs, said Lisa Wojtanowicz, the program’s coordinator.
Cribbin said the pilot program was a success.
The number of crimes reported each week dropped. However, commanders emphasized that because they didn’t use that data to select the “hot spots,” it is not the strongest indicator of the program’s impact.
“There is also seasonal decline in activity, thus the decrease cannot be attributed to the pilot program,” a police report stated.
But the complaint emails slowed to a trickle, police said.
“For that to stop means people were happy,” Cribbin said.
Lisa Lawrence, who lives near Ferry Park, admits she probably was one of the citizens who emailed Jepson the most before the pilot program. Since the summer, she routinely sent emails about open-air drug dealing and suspicious people.
“Calling the nonemergency line was a ridiculous waste of time,” she said. “That’s when we started to email heavily.”
Lawrence said Jepson asked for a meeting in August.
“They really are responsive, and they really do try to help us out and work with us,” she said.
Lawrence took note when the pilot project started.
“I did notice the increase in presence, and it was quite welcomed,” she said.
The numbers of emails Lawrence sent to Jepson tapered off. The criminal activity quieted down during the program’s duration.
“Now we are seeing an uptick,” Lawrence said Friday.
Cribbin had hoped to evaluate the program, make any needed changes and then apply it citywide.
“We have the technology and computer programs” to do that, he said.
Now, he will wait until after the budget cuts are finalized to see what the next step is.