San Diego has moved away from the community policing, crime prevention strategy it championed in the 1990s and to understand this shift, look to something called the Goldstein Award.
The award honors the best practices in problem-oriented policing, a concept developed by University of Wisconsin researcher Herman Goldstein that promotes police working alongside the community to address chronic issues.
The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing presents the award each year. Up until 2003, when Bill Lansdowne became the city’s police chief, San Diego submitted an average of five projects each year for the award. Since 2003, it’s submitted just two.
“That’s where I think things took a turn in San Diego,” said Michael Scott, the center’s director.
The shift was especially stark since San Diego had been the nation’s leading promoter of problem-oriented policing. For 14 years, it hosted the center’s annual conference, trained other law enforcement agencies and submitted more projects for the award than anywhere else in the world.
San Diego won the award in 2000 for a graffiti removal project around City Heights and was a finalist in four other years. Apart from the recognition, the contest also served as an avenue to share San Diego’s innovative policing tactics with agencies across the globe.
But in recent years, Scott said just one officer from San Diego has attended the conference. That officer, Lt. Andy Mills, said San Diego just doesn’t have the time to submit projects for the award anymore.
“Why take the time to write up (the project) when you could solve more problems?” Mills said. “People aren’t here for the glory.”
With San Diego’s decline in the competition, though, the police officers who promoted it here during the 1990s have gone on to build the concept elsewhere and in some cases win the prestigious award.
Lansdowne’s predecessor, David Bejarano, became Chula Vista’s police chief and his department won the Goldstein Award in 2009 for addressing crime in hotels and motels. Despite facing layoffs this summer, the department also plans to open a community storefront like the nine San Diego has closed since he left.
Bejarano said the department has also added community resource officers, expanded neighborhood watch groups and attends more community forums than it used to.
“Now more than ever, there’s more need to engage the community,” Bejarano said, citing the economic slump. “If you’re not engaged with a community, then I believe there’s an opportunity for more crime to occur.”
John Welter, who’s been described as the architect of San Diego’s problem-oriented policing efforts in the 1990s, is now Anaheim’s police chief. His department was a finalist for the Goldstein Award in 2007 for addressing drunken brawls and traffic congestion at large nightclubs and hosted the annual conference that year.
Welter said he understands why San Diego has cut back on community policing to alleviate budget pressures, but said crime prevention should still be emphasized among officers.
“We need to be doing more to solve our problems rather than arrest our way out of crime,” Welter said of the law enforcement industry. “It’s really incumbent on you to not throw out crime prevention.”
Scott said he doesn’t begrudge San Diego for shifting away from problem-oriented policing while facing budget cuts, but he worries about the long-term effect of police spending less time on prevention. It risks damaging the trust built with residents and the momentum to fix community problems, he said.
“You’re hard pressed to blame the city for making some cutbacks, but that doesn’t really get at whether police officers patrol in a proactive way,” he said. “If you sit back and wait for the crime to occur, it can get out of control.”