Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Come On Chief, Serve the Warrants!

Crime is too important to be left to the police.

That means that the city council needs to do a much better job of demanding that the chief of police run an effective department.

Every day you read about crime in the newspapers.

But what you see in the journal is a trickle compared to the flood of pain and bad news that flow through the 9-1-1 dispatch center every 24 hours.

I am not critical of the rank and file of police officers that patrol our streets. They do what management tells them or allows them to do.

Plus, as a former SDPD operations analyst, I have ridden along with them for endless hours and attended too many police-officer funerals to have other than the greatest respect for those officers who take their job seriously.

I am the council member who made sure that there is an appropriate memorial at the door of the council chambers for each and every city employee killed in the line of duty, most of which are police officers.

But I am critical of the management of the police department.

There are several very strong concerns. For example, why has the number of police officers increased under Chief Lansdowne and the percentage of crimes solved actually decreased.

According to SANDAG, in 2000, a mere 21 percent of crimes reported to the police were solved. By 2004, the rate had fallen steadily to 17 percent. When crimes are reported to the police, they should solve them more than 17 percent or even 21 percent of the time. Something is seriously wrong with the investigative functions of law enforcement in our city.

Even more bothersome to me as a former judge is the management's nearly complete indifference to the balance in outstanding arrest warrants.

When I repeatedly raised this issue as a judge, I was given a message by the chair of the county chiefs of police association. That message was "Back off!"

Here is the key point, which seems to be lost on the chief and his management.

Criminals commit crime. Criminals are, with very few exceptions, a known group with long criminal histories.

The best way to prevent crime is to arrest criminals. The very easiest way to arrest criminals is to serve arrest warrants.

The arrest warrant itself is probable cause to arrest any defendant, any time, anywhere. Why not do it?

There are around 50,000 arrest warrants outstanding in the City of San Diego this very moment. Fifty thousand!!!

An Army division numbers around 5,000 men. That means that there is the equivalent of ten Army divisions of criminals freely walking our city streets.

The chief did not know that number. In his May 26th response to my questions, he urged me to check with the sheriff if I wanted to know how many warrants were outstanding in San Diego.

If I were chief, I would know exactly how many wanted fugitives were stalking my city.

So what is the chief doing about them?

First, the chief says that the San Diego Police Department did indeed use warrants to arrest 8,019 fugitives in 2004. That sounds like a lot, but it is less than twenty percent of the total and works out to about one warrant for each officer every three months!

I wonder if they could step it up to arresting one fugitive each month next year, one each week the following year, and one each day the year after that.

The chief admits that he does not make the warrant balance a priority. He has never mentioned the problem of unserved warrants to the city council in his regular reports. And by the way, the city council does not ask.

The chief calls the service of warrants a "collateral function" of his department and points out that the sheriff"s department is supposed to be serving the warrants.

Chief, from Judge Stirling to you, the state law is that it is the duty of every sworn police officer in the state of California to serve arrest warrants.

The chief asserts that the police are busy doing more important things such as working with "the community" at community meetings. He does not know how many hours his officers sit around these meetings.

I have attended my fair share of community meetings. So, I can save the department a lot of time.

What the community wants is to not be victims of crime. They best way to accomplish that is to arrest criminals.

If the police department wants to "hear from the community", I suggest that the department do a better job of answering the 9-1-1 calls that flood into the headquarters.

First-rate rank and file police officers deserve first-rate management. They are not getting it.

About the Author: Larry Stirling is a retired judge of the San Diego Superior Court. Mr. Stirling has served on the San Diego City Council, State Assembly and State Senate. As a police operations analyst for the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Stirling was the creator of the first 9-1-1 system, the first computer aided dispatch system and the creator of the ARJIS system. As a member of the legislature, he was the chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.


Nancie Neal said...

I think it's like that everywhere. Teachers aren't to blame for the poor education because they have to do what management tell them to do, social workers aren't really to blame for the children that "slip though the cracks" because they do what management tells them to, doctors aren't really to blame for medical deaths because they have to follow what the government mandates through HMO's, Medicaid (or medicare), and insurance companies...

As the Government moves to standardize all of this, it's only going to get worse. As long as those crave power, rather than have the passion to actually help people, it's only going to get worse.

The ones who suffer are those on the recieving end of these services. The ones who get the brunt of the criticism are the ones who are actually dishing out the services rather than their bosses, whether it be the next one up or at the very top.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the source for the Judge's information on the percent of crimes solved. Was it referring to all calls that the PD received? Misd and felony? That is just too broad of a stat for him to say without defining the parameters.

Also, regarding the warrants, there are warrants issued by the courts every day for failure to appear or failing to pay a fine - even for very minor cases such as possession of marijuana. I don't think the number of warrants means all that much. To be more meaningful, the figure should be broken down between felony and misdemeanor, and take out the warrants for failing to come to court to pay a fine or submit paperwork. Frankly, I don't want the police to take their time serving those warrants.

Carl Starrett said...

The judge was referring to crime clearance statistics that are available from the San Diego Association of Governments.

You also appear to be missing to overall point of the article: prevention of crime by enforcing warrants. Warrants in San Diego are the result mostly of SDPD cite and release policies and the sheriff releasing DUI's without bail on their promise to appear. Fully fifty percent of people do not appear as promised.

Warrants are for wanted fugitives. The courts have long since relegated failure to appear for "minor" matters to referrals to collection agencies. Warrants are for felonies and for dangerous misdemeanors.