Interviews: Best Practices in Community Policing

Joyce Edgar

Joyce Edgar, Lieutenant with the San Diego Police Department

POV: How did community policing develop in San Diego?

Joyce Edgar, Lieutenant with the San Diego Police DepartmentJoyce Edgar: It developed over years, with the community and the police working together to analyze community problems and develop a response that fits the neighborhood. Herman Goldstein is regarded as the father of community policing, and his books were adopted by the SDPD years ago. We do sixteen hours of training at the academy level and continue through our ongoing efforts, so that police are not just dealing with enforcement, not just the symptoms of problems, but the core issues. The primary method is the SARA [Scan, Analyze, Respond, Assess] model, which is a decision-making model. Officers are trained to scan and identify problems, such as repetitive radio calls or complaints. That's followed by an analysis phase, when we brainstorm and ask questions about the response. Typically, we approach crime through a triangular model, where the three sides of the triangle are the victim, the suspect, and the environment. After coming up with a response, it's important to have the assessment at the end to evaluate and see if you did make a difference.

In the early 90s, there was much more emphasis on problem-solving. All the officers were sent to do additional training, and taught to work as teams on problem-solving. In the mid-90s we reorganized our patrol structure to facilitate problem-solving, working in the neighborhoods. It's sort of been inculcated as part of the culture for officers.

POV: How have these innovations improved policing, in terms of crime rate and of community satisfaction?

Edgar: Everybody realizes that a police department is not going to solve all their problems. One example of community policing in San Diego is that we had one part of town that attracted a lot of chronic drunks. The previous process was that people would be arrested, taken to a detox facility where they were allowed to sober up and leave with no criminal charges. Working with social service agencies, we realized that some people were there several times a week. We also learned that a lot of these people were going into the emergency room. A lot of money was being spent on emergency services for people who were going to be released in a few hours. Some of the doctors got involved. We brought in alcohol rehab people, and mental health people, and we started a program with the city attorneys where we would make arrests of people that were so chronic at detox, we would take them to jail and charge them with a crime. They were then offered a chance to go into drug and alcohol treatment or go to jail. At first people were hesitant to go to treatment, but recently we've seen something like 50 percent going into treatment, and something like 50 percent of those turning their lives around. All this under a structured program that the county helped fund. It's called the Serial Inebriate Program (S.I.P.).

POV: Civilian oversight is popular in a number of cities, but its effects have varied. What are the key characteristics of effective civilian oversight?

Edgar: San Diego adopted oversight before it was mandated. When there are serious incidents, complaints or shootings, the oversight board gets involved. The biggest problem is that we do the investigation, and they review the investigation, and if they bring up issues, then those issues are resolved, either explained or addressed. There have been some really positive things that have been involved. Our whole issue is trust, and we want the trust of the community, and if the committee can report back through the oversight board, we're more likely to gain trust.

POV: Are civilian oversight boards and police departments inherently opposing interests? Can there be effective partnerships between them?

Edgar: It hasn't really been an issue in our department, but when you start giving oversight boards subpoena powers, and people who aren't trained to do investigations are asking questions, it's not always really an effective investigative tool. It could turn into a witch hunt. We've always prided ourselves, especially when I worked in Internal Affairs, that we want the facts out, we want to do a complete investigation. If the oversight board points out something that got missed, we go back and we investigate it. We get a tremendous amount of information from a board that's willing to do that.

POV: Does the SDPD keep track of developments elsewhere? Do you know of programs in other departments that you feel are especially noteworthy?

Edgar: We're always interested in what goes on in other agencies, and we look for input both from experts and from individual subjects. We work closely with chiefs and commanding officers in other departments. The topics in law enforcement right now have to do with deadly force and pursuit policies. There's an annual Problem-Oriented Policing conference where we talk about best practices, and there are also a lot of resources available through the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The S.I.P. program has been highlighted by PERF for its success. The chief also meets with major city chiefs to go over issues that are important, and best practices from other departments.

POV: Is there a place for community input in developing guidelines for officers on the street?

Edgar: We have had several task forces, open to the public. The Use of Force task force brought people from all over the community. They looked at our use of force, and at best practices from elsewhere, and made specific recommendations to the chief of police. There was a real commitment to implement those. Some of the things we're working on are trying to increase the number of canine officers, and trying to upgrade our helicopters, many of which are decades old. Using helicopters in pursuits is often safer. We're starting a new cycle of training on crisis response teams, which will have eighty hours of training in crisis response. They'll be working around the clock to respond to incidents where anyone who seems to be in crisis can be contacted within a few minutes. The officers on that team will have training in how to deal with mentally ill persons who are creating difficulty for themselves. We're also looking into new kinds of non-lethal methods, such as the new generation of tasers. Those are expensive changes, but we're trying to get at least a minimum number of officers at every command with non-lethal weapons. It ties in to our approach to improve things.

Lieutenant Joyce Edgar has been with the San Diego Police Department for 26 years. She is currently working in the Training Division, adjacent to the Police Academy, and oversees the coordination of Advanced and In-Service Training for police officers.