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Saturday, January 29, 2011

For the Aurora Citizen - Third Time is a Charm

I have heard the “third time is the charm”. Although I’ve never been well versed in statistics, I am conducting an experiment to determine its validity.

This is the third column I have dedicated to you, the Aurora citizen, on the importance of locking your car and your home to prevent those individuals who cannot help themselves to supplement their material possessions by stealing yours.

My second column on this topic was delivered with “tough love”. Looking back, I see now that my tone was harsh and scolding but I thought that method was well suited to break your pattern of complacency. At our most recent CompStat meeting, a venue where we report on crime trends in the City, each Lieutenant reported that burglary is still the overwhelming problem in their respective areas.

This should not surprise you. Historically we have noted that when the economy is in the tank, it brings with it a rise in property crimes. One does not have to be an astute criminologist to understand that desperate times often result in desperate acts. However, each Lieutenant also reported that an overwhelming percentage of burglary victims admitted that their vehicles or residences were unlocked at the time of the crime.

My scolding obviously did not result in a change in your behavior. Since I’m not one to give up easily, I will now appeal to you in softer tones. I’ve decided to make a plea to those of you living in the “it won’t happen to me world.” PLEASE stop leaving your doors unlocked, your garages open, and your GPS devices, iPods, and other valuables inside your vehicles in plain view so that thieves won’t steal them!

Crime cannot exist without opportunity. You, my fellow Aurora citizen, continue to provide the crucial component of opportunity for criminals to victimize you. The most successful cops I know have the ability to think like a criminal. Years of experience in dealing with crime and criminals allow them insight into the dark side of the human psyche. Please join me in that journey for just a moment.

Imagine that you are an experienced thief. We’ll call you “Five Fingers <insert your name here>. You make a living stealing from others. You prey upon the poor, oblivious souls who are careless with their property and you seek them out. You wait for the cover of darkness and head out to a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of traffic. You dress in dark clothing to blend into the night armed with a back-pack. You simply walk along the cars parked in the street, peering into vehicles and inconspicuously checking door handles. Alas! You find an unlocked door and quickly duck into the vehicle undetected. Inside, you discover a garage-door opener. You stuff it into your back-pack and make a mental note of the address in the event you decide to return when no one is home – but that’s for another day…

You continue down the street, pleased with the high number of unlocked vehicles. Your back-back is getting heavy from the purse, laptop, camera, and other valuables you stole so you call it a night. You walk boldly down the street to your car that is parked a few streets over.

Even if someone saw you, they will rarely think anything of it because you don’t do anything overtly “suspicious”. You have learned over the years that people will second-guess themselves and ultimately do nothing. That is, until the following morning when neighbors swap stories about being burglarized. Only then will someone remember seeing a person walking down the street with a back-pack. By then, you will be home making plans to visit a different neighborhood.

Through my “third time is the charm” role-playing experiment, my hope is that you will begin to think like a criminal as a means to prevent being victimized.

If you don’t, I’m out of ideas.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Practical Wisdom

Aristotle theorized that practical wisdom--- having the moral will to do the right thing coupled with the skill to know what the right thing is--- was the highest virtue one could attain.


In their book “Practical Wisdom”, authors Kenneth Sharpe and Barry Schwartz detail the psychology behind Aristotle’s theory and its application to real life and the way institutions are managed. They found most employees of organizations have to choose between doing the quick or expected thing, over doing the right thing because they feel as though they do not have the autonomy or authority to choose the right thing if it conflicts with production or operations.


I couldn’t help but make the correlation to police work since there are specific sets of policies that dictate how police officers are to respond to given situations. A great example is an officer who is dispatched to a residence for a conflict between neighbors. In the interest of time (productivity), officers are expected to handle the call and move onto the next one so the calls don’t back up. The very least the officer will do if there are no arrests to be made is to write a report documenting the incident and moving on. In doing so, nothing has been done to solve the problem and we will most likely be called back as the tension escalates.


This pressure for productivity overrides the logical approach one might take in mediating the conflict. A better approach might be to learn the root of the problem and discussing the underlying issues with the parties involved. Sometimes misunderstandings are the catalyst for incidents that turn violent and can be diffused with some effort. This is why the judgment of the officer is crucial. The moral will to want to right a wrong must be coupled with the officer’s skill in knowing if the participants are reasonable enough to work on the issue.


Some officers might believe that practical wisdom is impossible to apply because we cannot overcome the culture of policing that pressures officers to be rapid in their response to calls. It can be problematic to spend time getting to the root of a problem because of other citizens waiting for their calls to be answered. Because we have always considered rapid response as an imperative, changing the culture is challenging.


During his research, Aristotle studied the great craftsmen of his time. He was particularly fixated on the artisans who built columns and structures. The craftsmen quickly learned that it was difficult to use a ruler to measure the cylinder-shaped columns so they figured out a way to bend the ruler so it wrapped around the column. This bended rule is what we know today as a tape measure.


This analogy is quite powerful because it speaks to the practical wisdom that Aristotle felt was applicable to all human beings abilities to adapt to their surroundings and come up with solutions to specific issues. Policing is no different. We want to empower our police officers to determine that each situation is unique and problem-solving requires the moral aptitude and skill to do what is best in that particular situation. When dealing with human beings, we have to be able to exercise judgment and adaptation to allow the best outcome.


However, Schwartz and Sharpe point out that no matter how specific the rules, there will never be an absolute approach that fits all situations. This is indicative of policing by the level of discretion afforded our officers as they carry out their duties.


The most important aspect of the “bended rule” is the moral will. It is not enough to be a skilled craftsman or a skilled police officer if ones moral compass is askew. Applying discretion to serve yourself is a form of manipulation and so the only adaptation made in any situation should be with the service of others in mind.