The Task Force on 21st Century Policing offers recommendations for building trust and creating opportunities for working with the community to increase public safety. Highlights include: developing and adopting policies and strategies that reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety, adopting preferences for seeking “least harm” resolutions, and establishing formal community/citizen advisory committees to assist in developing crime prevention strategies.
The Indio, California, Police Department knows the community can be a vital resource in reducing crime and increasing safety. The department’s Office of Community Safety engages, educates, and supports the community through such programs as Business Watch, Neighborhood Watch, the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, and the Community Outreach Resource Program (CORP). Partnering research institutions, the University of California, Riverside and Arizona State University, evaluate the programs on an ongoing basis to monitor effectiveness. One of the standout programs is the Community Outreach Resource Program (CORP), which utilizes the collaborative resources of community stakeholders, businesses, state and local organizations and agencies to identify and implement solutions to assist community members in need with getting the right help.
Community Outreach Court
The main component within CORP is the Community Outreach Court, a program that prevents using court resources to prosecute homeless offenders in a revolving door of minor offenses, such as loitering, panhandling, and trespassing. The Indio Police Department recognized that a large amount of the calls for service were disorder crimes committed by the homeless population. Knowing that reducing homelessness would reduce crime and disorder in Indio, Richard Twiss, the chief of police at that time, created a committee comprised of law enforcement officers, courts, prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, social service workers, behavioral health workers, workforce development service workers, and several non-profit executives to develop and run the Community Outreach Court.
This multidisciplinary strategy grants qualifying individuals with low-level pending criminal charges an alternative to traditional court that alleviates financial burdens, eliminates obstacles to future job prospects, and provides treatment services and education. Individuals are referred to the Community Outreach Court by community-based and faith-based non-profit organizations serving low-income families, transients, and homeless individuals, as well as by substance abuse and mental health service providers that work with the homeless and other vulnerable populations.
After the District Attorney’s Office completes a background check on the candidate, the court’s review committee discusses the candidate’s participation with external partner programs and his or her criminal background to determine fit for the program. Upon acceptance by the committee, an individualized treatment program is developed for each client. This may include education, job training, drug treatment, and mental health services. When the client successfully completes his or her treatment program, the court dismisses the fines and fees. Removing financial burdens and offering treatment programs help the clients overcome barriers and integrate more successfully into the community. Since the Community Outreach Court’s implementation in 2015, 81 clients have completed the program and nearly $200,000 in fines and fees have been dismissed.
Quality of Life Officers
Another primary strategy within CORP is the assignment of two full-time Quality of Life officers that focus on targeting disorder hot spots and minimizing the use of arrest. As The Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommends, community policing should focus on interventions and prevention through problem solving with building collaborative partnerships. The Quality of Life officers make use of the many resources within the community to try and get help for those in trouble without turning to incarceration.
The Quality of Life officers assist the Community Outreach Court in reaching out and connecting with the homeless population and in identifying potential participants for the program. The officers also educate local business owners on crime prevention through environmental design and go out of their way to let each community member they come in contact with know that they are there to help. The Quality of Life officers serve their community members well beyond enforcement.
The Indio Police Department understands that the best way to ensure the community’s safety is through utilizing community resources to assist those in need. By working collaboratively with a myriad of social service and criminal justice system resources such as the Community Outreach Court, the department is better able to manage public safety.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in advancing 21st century policing as part of the IACP Institute for Community-Police Relations. Indio is one of fifteen sites selected for participation in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative, a joint project of the COPS Office, CNA, and the IACP to highlight agencies who are actively embracing the principles in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.