Illinois City Sends Police to Live in Troubled Areas

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Rockford, Il., is one of the nation’s most dangerous small cities. It’s now starting its own resident officer program to build trust and address the city’s violent crime problem, reports Governing magazine. Officer Patrice Turner is moving into public housing where she and her daughter will live rent free for two to five years. Turner will take the lead in coordinating the police department’s response to violent crime in the neighborhood. She’ll also attempt, as a friend and neighbor, to address the problems that give rise to crime. “We have low education attainment levels and we have high poverty,” says newly elected Mayor Tom McNamara. “It’s a horrible combination.” He’s planning to respond with initiatives targeting education and jobs. First priority is addressing violent crime.

A year ago, Rockford hired a new police chief, Daniel O’Shea, to lead that effort. He has moved quickly to make peace with the police union and improve morale in the department. He reached out to the county sheriff’s department and to federal law enforcement agencies. Police are hoping to disrupt violent street gangs and drug traffickers with traditional investigations and prosecutions. O’Shea also focused on building trust and encouraging problem-solving. Having officers like Turner live in troubled neighborhoods is a first step toward building that trust. Last year, the Urban Institute ran a survey that focused on citizen perceptions of police and their willingness to engage with them. Respondents lived in high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods in Birmingham, Al.; Fort Worth, Tx.; Gary, In.; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; and Stockton, Ca. What the survey found was sobering. More than half of the respondents thought the police were racially biased. Only a third believed the police “tried to do what was best for the people they were dealing with.” Fewer than a third agreed that police “always or almost always” followed the law.

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