One of the slogans you come across in front-line management training is “Catch them doing something right.” In other words, make a point of telling those you supervise that they’re doing a good job.
We don’t supervise Racine Police Chief Art Howell or his officers. But we’ve caught them doing something right.
Reports of violent crime fell by 17 percent within the Racine Police Department’s jurisdiction between 2017 and 2018, according to new statistics reported to the FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
It’s a far cry from 1991, when Racine’s violent crime rate was among the highest in the state — even Milwaukee’s rate was lower then.
“(Violent crime) in Racine has dropped to record lows each of the past six years, while this has not been the case in neighboring major cities,” Howell said in a May 5 Journal Times report.
Howell said that the positive shifts can be largely attributed to the department’s “two-pronged approach when it comes to crime reduction,” as well as the improved technology available to law enforcement.
“In the 1960s, police officers didn’t even have radios. They’d have to go to a police call box to radio something in,” Howell said. “Now, the officers can talk to each other with radio and we have computers in the squad cars … technology has really assisted law enforcement.”
Even 40 years ago, Howell said, it would sometimes take weeks to identify patterns in crimes, such as a series of shots-fired incidents or robberies. Police would do this through placing physical pins in maps, hoping to identify patterns or clusters that could lead to identifying suspects and catching a culprit.
“Now, we have a computer database that will show us in real time if there is an emerging trend,” Howell said. “Advances in tech have really changed how policing is done.”
The first prong of the department’s approach is targeting past lawbreakers.
“10% of the criminals are responsible for 60% of the crime. We’re most successful when we target that 10%,” Howell said. “Anyone who has presented a threat to public safety is tracked … all the way through the criminal justice process.”
The other prong of the department’s crime-reduction efforts is relationships.
That starts with the city’s six Community Oriented Policing Houses, aka COP Houses. Howell said that the presence of a COP House on Anthony Lane (formerly Jacato Drive), as well as collaborations with other city departments, has played a major role in reducing crime on Racine’s northwest side.
“The key there is, you can’t develop relationships at the time of a crime. You have to have trust and equity already built, and the way you do that is through our programs.”
We’ve written here previously of our enthusiastic support of the COP Houses.
It was in 2008, in a series of reports on Racine gang culture, that The Journal Times quoted a Racine Police sergeant as seeing “kids walking around with Stop Snitchin’ T-shirts on.” The shirts — specifically, the message behind them — were meant to discourage cooperation with the police.
One sure way to fight the spread of that anti-police mentality is to have officers stationed in the city’s neighborhoods, at the COP Houses, to create an environment where officers know the residents and the residents know the officers.
While Friday was a hard day in Racine with two deaths on 19th Street, overall Racine’s streets and neighborhoods have gotten safer on Chief Howell’s watch.
Well done, Chief. Well done, Racine police officers.