Policing in America – New and Old Strategies for Success

Guest Post by Tara Munjekovich

Law enforcement operational methods have been a hotly debated topic for many years. Although the “standard” model of policing that is the basis for general patrol functions remains largely unchanged (responding to calls for service, traffic enforcement, investigating crimes, etc.), more specifically targeted policing methods and strategies typically shift and evolve over time, as law enforcement agencies continually seek new ways to effectively handle and reduce criminal activity.

While adjustment and growth in any field is a critical component for success, knee-jerk reaction policy changes are not always the most effective means of accomplishing goals. I believe this is especially true in law enforcement. More often than not, the impetus for change in policing methods is the result of a highly publicized controversial incident that draws significant media attention and creates public divisiveness regarding a law enforcement officer’s actions. The immediate response is typically to call for some kind of police reform, new training standards, or often extreme policy changes.

This article is not intended to be an argument in support of one method of policing over another, nor will it cover all of the various theories and policing models (How long and boring would that be…?). During my 14-year law enforcement career, I saw a revolving door of various policing models, some of which were extremely effective, and some of which were not. I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the majority of my career assigned to specialized units focused on specific tasks and missions, rather than performing typical patrol functions. From personal experience, I have successfully operated within the parameters of several styles of policing, and I found them all to be effective for different situations. This article will touch on some of my experiences and how combining various policing ideologies can be used to facilitate positive community engagement while also effectively enforcing the law and promoting public safety.

I started my law enforcement career with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 2007. At the time, our Police Chief, William Bratton, was one of the biggest proponents of the “broken windows” theory, a policing concept dating back to the early 1980’s. The general idea is that if “minor” crimes (littering, prostitution, graffiti, drunk and disorderly conduct, vandalism, loud parties, etc.) are ignored and given a pass, they will eventually lead to disorder and increased violent criminal activity, creating a culture of disengagement and fear. The driving force behind this theory is that enforcing misdemeanor laws and city codes will reduce visible signs of crime, ultimately leading to increased public safety and overall improved quality of life issues within communities. To put it simply, the idea is that if a neighborhood looks safe and is well-maintained (no “broken windows”), it will deter crime and lawlessness.

There has been a lot of debate and controversy over the years as to whether the “broken windows” theory is effective, and this style of policing has received a lot of criticism from its opponents. Many would argue that it’s a waste of already limited law enforcement resources, and, of course, there is the ever-present argument that it’s based in racial and class bias, as the “broken windows” problems are typically present in lower-income communities.

I remember this concept being a significant focus of my academy training, and it was one of the first policing methods I was exposed to during my initial months on patrol, where I was assigned to an area of the city with an active violent gang problem. When we weren’t slammed with calls for service, we focused on proactive enforcement and trying to create a safer environment for the community. The gang members and criminals may not have been happy about being arrested for menial warrants and “petty” crimes, but the hard-working, law-abiding residents of the community were appreciative of our efforts, and we often prevented more significant crimes from occurring.

Within a couple years of being on the job, department leadership changed, and we started to transition to an emphasis on community policing. The general concept of community policing involves working in partnership with community members and leaders to solve problems. Instead of issuing citations and making misdemeanor arrests for minor offenses, the focus of our training and law enforcement activities began to shift towards interacting with the community in a more positive and proactive manner, with the intention of building relationships and furthering public trust.

In the summer of 2008, I was sent to a newly formed specialized foot patrol unit in Hollywood, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Los Angeles. The city was experiencing significant issues with gang violence and crime on Hollywood Blvd, along with numerous fights involving large crowds when the nightclubs would simultaneously close at 2:00 am, and throngs of drunk patrons would pour out into the streets, obstructing traffic. Our mission was a combination of the “broken windows” theory, directed patrol, and community-based policing efforts. In alignment with the “broken windows” theory, we cited and arrested people for minor crimes that were often ignored in other areas of the city, sending the message that even low-level criminal activity would not be tolerated on Hollywood Blvd. We also supported the concept of directed patrol by having large groups of officers placed strategically along the boulevard as a high visibility crime deterrent. At the same time, we worked closely with community leaders, business owners, and residents to establish positive relationships based on mutually productive ideas and efforts to make Hollywood Blvd and the surrounding area a safer and more inviting place to live, work, and visit. During the two years that I was assigned to this unit, our efforts in combining various models of police work made a significant impact on reducing crime and improving quality of life issues within the community. 

Several years later, I had the privilege of working one of the most coveted assignments in the department as a member of an elite mobile division that was initially focused on targeted crime suppression in various areas of the city, based on current and anticipated crime trends. This style of police work is often referred to as “predictive policing,” a method that involves analyzing crime statistics in a particular area and saturating that area with law enforcement resources to deter or combat criminal activity. For example, when an area of the city was experiencing a rise in auto thefts or burglaries, a group of officers from the division I was assigned to would be sent to that area for several days or weeks until the criminal activity declined. Our primary goal was to flood the area with a heavy police presence and make arrests or give citations for both felony and minor offenses.

While I was assigned to this division, there were several controversial officer-involved shootings in the city that resulted in increased racial tension within the community and intense public scrutiny of both my division and the LAPD as a whole. We were frequently met with a lot of backlash, anger, resentment, and disrespect from community members who believed we were only there to harass them and engage in racially biased police activities, despite the fact we were working hard to proactively increase quality of life in the neighborhood. Within a matter of months, our focus officially transitioned from directed enforcement to taking on the role of community outreach in support of the department’s community-based policing mission.

I later transferred to the mounted (equine) unit within the same division, where I spent the next several years doing police work on horseback instead of in a vehicle. I quickly discovered that the same community members who expressed anger and resentment towards the police often responded completely differently to being approached by an officer on a horse. We rode our horses everywhere, including crowded city streets downtown, residential neighborhoods, shopping mall parking lots, the homeless encampments of Skid Row, and the heavily populated beaches of Venice. Even in the most “anti-cop” areas, people would come out of their homes and often run directly into the street to engage with us because they were excited see horses in the middle of the city. Resentment and fear of the police became secondary to their interest in wanting to pet the horses and ask questions about them, and this opened the doors for us to be able to have one-on-one human interactions with community members. Although we still focused on crime suppression and actively made arrests, we also used the horses to our advantage as a way to establish positive contacts within the community, and we truly had amazing results. My time spent in this unit will always be something I remember as one of the most impactful and meaningful assignments during my law enforcement career.

Sadly, the City of Los Angeles and the administrative staff at the LAPD began succumbing to the pressure and demands of the community and political organizations calling for police reform and lenient legislation. Offenses that were once significant arrestable crimes became minor infractions or negligent incidents. Even when we did arrest or cite people for legitimate criminal activity, they were typically released from the jail an hour later, and nothing was being prosecuted in the courts. Instead of enforcing laws and working to make the city safe for residents, business owners, and visitors, we essentially stopped any type of proactive police work and let the city fall into ruin.

Is policing black and white? Is it shades of grey? Or, in the case of cities like Los Angeles, does the law even exist anymore…? This may sound like an exaggeration, but if you happen to take a trip to downtown Los Angeles, you can see it for yourself. Homelessness, excessive drug use, and violent crime have increased tenfold over the past few years, to the point where the LAPD is currently issuing crime prevention tips about not wearing expensive jewelry in public and making sure to travel in groups, so you don’t become a victim. A few months ago, an LAPD representative even publicly compared the level of crime in Los Angeles to the movie “The Purge.” It may sound comical, but for the people who live and work there, it’s downright tragic and disgraceful. Los Angeles has never been crime-free, but it certainly wasn’t the dump that it is now.

When I joined the LAPD, my intention was to truly uphold the department’s motto “To Protect and to Serve” until the day I retired. I took pride in my role as a police officer in general, and I was even more proud to work for what was once one of the most prestigious departments in the world. For several years, I felt like I was doing my part in contributing to the betterment of the city, and I saw firsthand that our efforts were successful. Ultimately, the radical left agenda that has been steadily destroying California over the past decade and turning Los Angeles into a crime-fueled zombie wasteland, changed the course of my career. I reached a point where I felt I was no longer effective in my job, and I chose to leave the department in 2018.

So, is there a “best” model of policing? Frankly, I believe the most effective model of police work is based on common sense, critical thinking, and the ability to quickly assess a situation and adapt to it with a reasonable and logical response. Despite the fact that my career with the LAPD ended earlier than I anticipated, I value the years I spent as a law enforcement officer there. I share these stories of my experiences because I believe they exemplify how sensibly incorporating concepts from different philosophies of policing can be effective in positively impacting and benefitting communities. It would take a complete overhaul of state and local government (a story for another time…), but if law enforcement department leaders actually grew some balls, stood up for their communities, and upheld the oath they made “To Protect and to Serve,” perhaps Los Angeles, and other cities being destroyed across the nation, could be great once again.  

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