Kalamazoo Public Safety shifts focus with juveniles toward building relationships, away from arrests
by Rex Hall Jr
On a recent Tuesday, Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Brandon Noble's work shift had little to do with responding to calls, writing reports or making arrests.
He delivered a new bike to a 9-year-old girl as a reward for doing well in school, stopped by the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission's daycare center to pass out badges and plastic fire helmets, traded high-fives with young boys playing pool at the Douglass Community Association and critiqued their latest dance moves.
“I enjoy the kids,” said the 29-year-old officer. “A younger guy, they can relate to you.”
Building relationships in the community, specifically with youth and teenagers, is a philosophy that Noble and others in Kalamazoo Public Safety say has intensified since about 2009, the year after Chief Jeff Hadley took the helm.
“We certainly encourage our officers on a daily basis to find those opportunities,” Hadley said. “Whatever it is ... we certainly have had a significant emphasis on the youth engagement and the community as a whole.”
Kalamazoo County's juvenile arrest rate is among the state highest in Michigan, second only to Kent among Michigan's urban counties. In 2008, Kalamazoo County had 25 juvenile arrests per 1,000 residents ages 10 to 16, compared to 17 per 1,000 for the state. Yet juvenile arrests plummeted 44 percent in Kalamazoo County from 2008 to 2012, part of a larger statewide and nationwide trend that saw juvenile arrests fall 57 percent in the city of Kalamazoo.
The drop in juvenile crime, and the theories for it, is the subject of a series of stories this week by the Kalamazoo Gazette.
In Portage, Kalamazoo County's second largest city, juvenile arrests fell 39 percent, from 423 in 2008 to 258 in 2012. The largest decrease has been in retail thefts — which fell from 222 arrests in 2009 to 157 in 2012 to 85 in 2013 through late November, according to Portage Department of Public Safety Director Richard White.
"We've made a better attempt to get out into the community and interact with (youth), White said. "We have a Facebook page, all of the work with the (Kalamazoo County Substance Abuse Task Force) ... I see the schools perhaps considering more the availability of in-school sanctions rather than going to a criminal court action.”
Juvenile delinquency petitions filed by the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office dropped by 21 percent from 2008 to 2012 and detentions at the county's juvenile home plummeted 40 percent. “I think it's a great thing,” Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home Director Travis Faulds said. “It's using better judgment. You shouldn't arrest a kid unless it's truly justified.”
A tipping point
In Kalamazoo, a tipping point came after five teenagers were shot or stabbed to death by other teens in 2007. There was a community outcry to stem the teen violence, KDPS Assistant Chief Donald Webster recalls.
Public Safety responded with a hard-nosed approach that focused more on arrests and less on crime prevention and intervention, said Webster, who at the time was an inspector in Public Safety's Office of Professional Standards. But it didn't take long to realize that approach wouldn't solve the problem.
"You can't arrest your way out of it and we realized that," he said. "We had to come up with a whole different philosophy about how we reach out to our youth.”
Webster said the philosophy really took shape starting in 2009. A teen summit that year attracted some 300 youths and drove home for him the realities some of the city's more at-risk teenagers face daily, from poverty to lack of parenting. The summit showed that many teens were unaware of after-school activities and other programs the community had to offer.
That same year, KDPS began its youth academy, which gives teens a chance to spend a week at Fort Custer taking part in team-building exercises and other activities with police officers. “I think when you understand the youth a little more, you can meet their needs ... A lot of times our youth just want us to pay attention to them,” Webster said.
Leaders in city neighborhoods, from Edison, Eastside and Vine to Milwood, Stuart and West Main Hill, say Public Safety's community outreach efforts have been apparent in recent years.
Pat Taylor, from the Eastside Neighborhood Association, points to the neighborhood's liaison officer, who plays basketball with neighborhood kids.
“He's interacting with kids as people, and that really has an effect,” Taylor said. “People who were once wary of Public Safety have come to understand that police are people too. There are always one or two rebellious kids, but for the most part, people are working in a more positive light.”
'You can't arrest everybody'
Noble was the school-resource officer at Loy Norrix High School for the 2012-13 school year and part of an effort to curtail problems with specific students, including those who were skipping school. He would go on home visits with school officials, and in some cases probation officers, to talk with students and their families about how to get them back in school and on successful path.
“It's nice because we can sit down and tell that kid, ‘We're here to help you. We're not here to lock you up. But if you continue this, it's not looking good,” Noble said.
Even when arresting a juvenile is the only choice, Noble and his command officer in Public Safety's Community Policing Unit, Sgt. Matt Elzinga, say KDPS goes about it differently than it used to.
Earlier this year, for example, two groups of young people who were embroiled in a conflict that led to fights and, in some instances, shootings in the city, Elzinga said. His unit identified “six different key players" behind the violence and arrested them.
“We realized you can't arrest everybody,” Elzinga said. “We identified (the key players), we knew where they lived ... Within three hours we had them all picked up and that made a huge impact.”
Hadley said the focus is on intervening with juveniles who are the most troublesome, then trying to work with school officials, probation officers and family members in an effort to prevent future problems.
“We're very intentional, very purposeful in our approach,” Hadley said.
Being a friend
On that recent Tuesday, the same day Noble delivered the new bicycle to the little girl, handed out goodies to the preschoolers and yucked it up with the boys playing pool, he walked along Ada Street in the city's Northside neighborhood.
He hoped to interact with people in the neighborhood while at the same time, if needed, chase trespassers out of vacant houses. Some youth who were walking down on the street turned and headed in the opposite direction when they spotted the officer and his badge.
A teenager, Jamie Poindexter, pulled up in a car and gave a friendly yell, “Hey, Officer Noble.”
Noble had met the 17-year-old while working as a school resource officer at Loy Norrix.
Poindexter said Noble is a role model and that without his influence and that of a behavior specialist at Norrix, his life would be on a much different path.
"When I'm around him, I never get in trouble," Poindexter said. "I can talk to him about anything that's going on. He takes me seriously.
"He's like a big brother to me and one of my mentors."
Later that Tuesday at the Douglass Community Association, Noble ran into another Norrix graduate, Greg Hale-Sandifer, who was now working as a youth development professional at the Douglass and taking classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
“It was like having a friend who also was a police officer," Hale-Sandifer said of Noble's approach while working at the high school. "He actually just made daily conversation with us.”
Hale-Sandifer said he sees the same positive approach at Douglass, which Noble tries to visit weekly, often spending time playing basketball with youth there.
“I can tell you that good will definitely come from it here too,” Hale-Sandifer said of the officer's connection with the kids.
On this Tuesday, Noble promised the boys in the recreation room that he would be back soon for a game of pickup basketball.
Before Noble left, Martell Underwood, 9, placed a drawing he had done in Noble's hand and thanked him. “It's like he's protecting us,” the boy said.
Rex Hall Jr. is a public safety reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Jail Assaults Jump as California's Public Safety Realignment Takes Toll on Local Law Enforcement
Santa Barbara County reports sharp increase in attacks as inmate influx adds to overcrowded conditions
by Giana Magnoli
Assaults inside the Santa Barbara County Jail system have increased significantly since public safety realignment was implemented in 2011, according to Sheriff's Department data.
Inmate-on-inmate assaults increased 40 percent from 2011 to 2013, said Cmdr. Darin Forthingham, who oversees the sheriff's Jail Operations.
The county's jail system includes the Main Jail and Medium Security Facility at the Sheriff's Department complex on Calle Real, and the Santa Maria Jail, which closed in July 2011 and will reopen next year.
Assaults increased 28 percent in 2012 and rose again this year, with 222 assaults by inmates on other inmates as of Nov. 30.
While the average daily population is around 1,000 people now and increased slightly since realignment — 8 percent in 2012 and 2 percent in 2013 — the increases in assaults are disproportionately high.
Santa Barbara reports on a range of assaults, Fotheringham said.
“The assaults may range from a minor offense (California Penal Code 242, simple battery), which could include a shove or spitting, all the way to a violent assault with a weapon and causing bodily injury, or even attempted murder,” he said.
“We are obviously concerned about the increase in inmate violence and are redoubling our efforts to make our jail as safe as possible despite the challenges we face,” Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said in a statement Tuesday.
“The reality of providing a safe and secure facility for the inmates and custody staff is an ongoing effort that requires a significant amount of strategic planning and consideration," she said. "The classification of inmates, which is the process that determines where inmates are housed and whom they are housed with, plays a tremendous role in curbing inmate assaults."
Training custody staff to detect, prevent and respond to inmate violence is also crucial, she said.
In Santa Barbara County, inmate attacks on staff were fairly consistent from 2010 through 2012 — between 11 and 14 per year — but that number has jumped to 22 so far this year.
The county must report inmate assaults on staff to the state only if they result in a crime report, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Santa Barbara County reported fewer assaults to the state than it records internally, meaning every recorded assault doesn't result in a crime report, according to state and county data.
A recent Associated Press report looked at California's 10 counties with the largest jail populations and found increased violence in the 10 counties that hold 70 percent of the state's jail population.
In those counties, which don't include Santa Barbara, all but one had an increase in inmate-on-inmate assaults since realignment. Nearly 2,000 more jail inmates were assaulted by other inmates in the first year of realignment, the AP reported.
Meanwhile, assaults in state prisons have dropped as populations declined, the AP reported after analyzing state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data.
In an effort to ease overcrowding within California's prison system, Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment plan transferred more state prisoners to serve sentences in county jails and released thousands of low-level felony inmates as parolees to their home counties.
Local law enforcement expected crime rates to increase in the short term and for the criminal justice system to be swamped with the additional people, including probation, courts, social workers and re-entry programs.
“It is too early to tell the correlation between realignment and the increased level of inmate violence, but at a minimum we are seeing an increased level of criminal sophistication at our facility from inmates who would normally be sent to state prison to serve out their sentences,” Hoover said in the statement.
Sheriff Bill Brown has said realignment makes the county jail system more like a prison, with more serious inmates serving sentences longer than a year in a facility that wasn't built for the purpose. The average stay was 20 days before realignment was implemented, but many inmates are now serving sentences longer than a year, according to a county Grand Jury report issued in June.
The jails aren't equipped for the yard time, living space, program needs and dietary requirements for longer-serving inmates either, the report found.
It's so cramped for space that part of the jail's basement was converted into inmate housing to provide 50 more beds, Hoover said.
Brown told the county Board of Supervisors last week that the department has 13 vacant custody deputy positions right now, which means it's so understaffed that patrol deputies are temporarily reassigned to help fill the gaps.
The board approved reopening the Santa Maria Branch Jail as a semi-temporary measure to help North County law enforcement cut down on driving time when transporting arrestees to the Main Jail.
Santa Barbara County plans to build a 376-bed jail near Santa Maria, along Black and Betteravia roads sout of the city.
The increase in violence underscores the need for a modern jail facility, Hoover said. The new jail “won't eliminate the danger” but will be designed with new safety features that make it easier to manage inmates, she said.
It is estimated to cost $96 million to build, including an $80-million state grant and matching local funds, and is being designed to hold longer-term inmates. Operating costs will be about $17.3 million per year, starting when construction completes in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, officials say.
From the FBI
TEDAC Marks 10-Year Anniversary
A Potent Weapon in the War on Terror
It has been 10 years since the FBI established the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), and since that time the multi-agency operation—sometimes referred to as America's bomb library—has become an essential tool in the nation's fight against terrorism.
Before TEDAC, no single government entity was responsible for analyzing and exploiting evidence and intelligence related to the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by international and domestic terrorists. Today, TEDAC coordinates all those efforts.
Located at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, “TEDAC is the government's single repository for IEDs,” said Special Agent Greg Carl, TEDAC director. “The evidence and intelligence we gather from these explosives is used by law enforcement, the military, the intelligence community, and by our political decision-makers. There is no question that the work we have done—and continue to do—has helped to save American lives.”
Whether bombs come from the battlefields of Afghanistan or from homegrown terrorists within our borders, TEDAC's 13 government agency partners and 17 external partners collect the devices and send them to TEDAC to be analyzed and catalogued.
“We exploit the devices forensically,” said Carl, a veteran FBI agent who is also a bomb technician. The results are analyzed by TEDAC's Intelligence Unit (see sidebar), and disseminated to law enforcement entities and the intelligence community to provide key intelligence on terrorist networks. “Based on the forensic evidence—DNA, fingerprints, and other biometrics—we try to identify the bomb maker and also make associations, linking devices together from separate incidents.”
Since its creation in 2003, TEDAC has examined more than 100,000 IEDs from around the world and currently receives submissions at the rate of 800 per month. Two million items have been processed for latent prints—half of them this year alone. “Just from the sheer volume,” Carl said, “we have a lot of experience identifying IED components and blast damage.” As a result, he added, “we have identified over 1,000 individuals with potential ties to terrorism.”
Also based on TEDAC analysis, more than 100 people have been named to the government's Terrorist Watchlist, a database that identifies subjects known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity. “Putting individuals on the list prevents them from entering the country,” Carl said.
Subject matter experts from TEDAC can quickly deploy to incidents—such as the Boston Marathon bombings last April—and work with FBI Evidence Response Teams and local law enforcement to collect critical evidence and quickly transport it to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico for analysis. “We sent our folks immediately to the scene in Boston to help coordinate the collection and processing of evidence,” Carl said.
TEDAC is capable of much more than evidence collection for criminal prosecution, though. “Since we also partner with the military and the intelligence community, our work is utilized by many different sources,” Carl said. The military, for example, uses TEDAC intelligence for force protection and to disrupt terror networks. Decision-makers can count on TEDAC's intelligence—based on forensic science—to help them form policy.
“And our interagency partners use TEDAC for research,” Carl added, explaining that agencies can “check out” a bomb—much like a library book—for testing and further analysis. “We maintain all of the devices that we've collected going back to the inception of the center.”
Looking back over a decade, and forward to the future—TEDAC is building a state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville, Alabama—Carl said, “I see TEDAC as good government. The fact that you have multiple agencies coming together, working toward one common cause, without duplicating resources, means that everyone benefits. And that helps make the country safer.”
White House Policy on Countering IEDs
On February 26, 2013, two decades to the day after an explosives-laden truck detonated under the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York, the White House released a policy statement outlining the government's commitment to countering IEDs, which accounted for more than 4,000 attacks in 2011. Central tenets of the policy include enhanced training, increased sharing of information and expertise, and “effectively exploiting information and materials from IED attacks.”
The Joint Program Office for Countering IEDs, administered through the FBI, was created to coordinate and track implementation of the priority capabilities spelled out in the White House policy statement. “The threat from IED use is likely to remain high in the near future, and will continue to evolve in response to our abilities to counter them,” the statement concludes.
“TEDAC plays a vital role in the national strategy,” said Special Agent Greg Carl, TEDAC director, noting that the multi-agency organization is the government's single strategic IED exploitation center as well as the repository for more than 100,000 IEDs collected during the past decade.