No Substitute For Warm Bodies

In law enforcement, the tend – as far as intelligence and information management go, anyway – has for some time been something along the lines of “work smarter, not harder”, and the popular advice is not to collect more information, but to better exploit the information you already have, and collect. It looks great on paper, and it’s – don’t get me wrong – actually a pretty smart and effective tactic when used properly.

What troubles me, though, is the fact that all too often the renewed emphasis on “information you already have” means that the collection of new information gets sidelined, at best; at worst, the acquisition of new information becomes viewed as unimportant, which isn’t – okay, shouldn’t – be the case.

I was visiting some in-laws recently, and was reminded quite clearly of the potential of the previous – okay, A previous – trend in law enforcement, which was something euphemistically called “community-oriented policing”, and is evidently still in vogue, in one form or another, in some countries. Here it’s kind of “old hat”, viewed as a mildly curious relic of a primitive and superstitious bygone era of yore. For the most part, in my personal opinion, it never worked well in this country for two reasons – at best, it was only ever implemented half-assedly, and Americans, for some unfathomable reason, really don’t like or want having anything to do with the po-po. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

See, what community-oriented policing (well, in one of its incarnations, anyway…) was supposed to do was ensure that your average citizens would have greater exposure, and access, to police officers. (And vice-versa, I guess.) What this usually materialized as was officers on foot, bicycle, or horse patrol, and police “substations” in strip-mall storefronts and so on. Mind you, the foot and bike patrols never happened in residential areas, and nobody ever manned the storefront substations, so the whole idea of building a rapport with the community failed miserably…

Anyway, I was visiting some in-laws over the weekend, and while there happened to notice what I shall describe merely as “suspicious behavior” happening around a house down the street. The in-laws noticed my noticing the neighbors, and were all “What are you looking at? Oh, them? They’re just buying crack off of Johnny, they’ll be gone in a few minutes.”


I then got regaled, for about ten minutes, with a pretty concise run-down of all the criminal activity (real or imagined) in a three-block radius. The crack dealer, the fence, the nice lady who has an endless parade of late-night gentlemen callers (did I mention my in-laws are in their sixties?), the guy whose brother works for a shipping company and sometimes has merchandise available that “fell off a truck”, the unemployed guy with the drinking problem who “everyone in the neighborhood” suspects of several recent burglaries…

Has anyone ever, you know, called the police, I asked.

“We don’t have any real proof“, was the answer. “We all know what’s going on, but we don’t have any evidence to show a jury or anything.”

This is the kind of information that community-oriented policing was supposed to pick up on, by making police officers “part of the community” the way they were back in the ’40s and ’50s. Part of the plan was that you were supposed to make officers approachable public servants, rather than uniformed automatons who are too busy – or perceived to be too busy – to interact with the public and pick up on what I’ll euphemistically call gossip.

People like to gossip, and talk, and your average homeowner probably knows about a lot of stuff in their neighborhood that the local “beat cops”, whizzing around in their squad cars between calls for service, never pick up on.

Yeah, leveraging the information you’ve already got is good, and important, but no database manipulation or complicated mathematical formulas are going to tell you what the “word on the street”.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on July 15th, 2009| Comments Off on No Substitute For Warm Bodies

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