CRIME FIGHTING: BREAKING CRIME’S GRIP
Graymond Martin is thinking outside of the box … again.
“You ready?” he smiles over coffee.
The phrase is Martin’s rhetorical tip-off. He is preparing for another philosophical “joy ride,” a creative departure from the more predictable strategies of local law enforcement.
A 57-year-old lawyer and former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) lieutenant, Martin helped former mayor Marc Morial develop successful police reforms and crime reduction strategies in the 1990s. But Martin’s often-unconventional approaches to policing have been known to rankle traditionalists. For example, as a police supervisor in 1980, he once declared himself a “manager” and stopped carrying his gun. He made headlines and infuriated his NOPD bosses.
But post-Katrina, the quest for alternative strategies on crime and police-community relations seems more desperate than experimental. Violent crime threatens to strangle the recovery; political ineptness may provide the “rope.” The city’s nation-leading homicide rate persists despite the best efforts of NOPD, City Hall and outside consultants.
“You don’t need outside consultants,” snaps Martin, who once advised the government of Argentina on policing and now lives in Lakeview with his wife. “You just need fresh minds and [leaders] who are open to ideas and willing to make changes.”
For example, he says, crime statistics and arrest totals – the two indices most commonly published by law enforcement – are “worthless” for judging police performance. A regular poll is a better tool, he says.
A police department provides a range of public safety services in addition to crime fighting, Martin says. Unfortunately, top cops, politicians and the news media overemphasize crime fighting. As a result, undue focus is placed on arrests and reported incidents of crime. And the data is invariably flawed. “Every crime is reported – not!” he says. “Every arrest is for good [legal] cause – not!”
The city’s over-reliance on crime “stats” can be traced to the Morial years, ironically. Since the administration of Police Chief Richard Pennington (1994-2000), various scandals involving “crime stats” have deepened public skepticism of NOPD. Murders and auto thefts are widely considered the most accurate of seven major crimes that NOPD reports to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But Martin believes that a quarterly poll would be a better gauge of NOPD’s job performance and that the University of New Orleans, which conducts an annual “Quality of Life” poll, might undertake the survey.
He rattles off a list of sample questions: “Have you called the police since Katrina? Were the officers polite? Did they arrive timely? Did they give you helpful information? Would you call them again? Do you feel safe and free – or do you feel afraid and repressed?”
In fact, the police poll is an idea he once offered to Police Chief James Parsons, who put him in charge of “special projects” at NOPD nearly three decades ago. “In the 1970s, I proposed we judge the department’s performance by a ‘Happiness Quotient,’” Martin smiles.
It didn’t fly.
Today, the police poll is an idea whose time may have finally come. And the survey may help improve police interaction with citizens, Martin says. “The mother’s milk of police work is information. If citizens are happy, confident and trusting of the police, they will be more likely to help the police solve crimes. But people today don’t believe that giving information to the police will make them feel safer. They think it will actually make them less safe.”
In fact, two recent polls of residents in crime-plagued Central City found fear of crime was high and confidence in police, low. Martin says it is NOPD job to change such perceptions.
A clear expression of a police department’s philosophy can help. Martin rejects the “zero tolerance” doctrine of policing, which seeks to check crime by requiring enforcement action for the most minor infractions. He favors a policy of “minimal” arrests that result in maximum courtroom convictions and a safer city. “The goal of policing should be minimally intrusive law enforcement,” says Martin. “If I’m bragging about arrests that don’t lead to convictions, I’m bragging about repression [and] depriving citizens of liberty without [legal] cause.”
Martin has many other ideas as well:
nNOPD should always guard against the development of another dangerous “police philosophy,” one that presumes “everyone is a criminal.” NOPD needs “a rational philosophy to make people feel safe.”
nPolice need more discretion, not less. They also need to be better educated and well paid. “If you put a good police officer in a bad police department, you end up with an ineffective officer. You put a bad officer in a good police department and you get an ex-police officer.”
• Martin says the proposed independent monitor for NOPD will improve police organizational behavior and build community trust in the force. A former commander of NOPD’s sex crimes division, he also supports citizen calls for Internet crime maps with timely information provided by the NOPD – after development of protocols for victim privacy. “Real info in real time – why not?”
The department doesn’t want to be “judged harshly,” but the public has a right to most information about crime. NOPD’s tradition of dispatching a delegate to monthly neighborhood meeting “to talk about crime trends” will no longer suffice. “Since Katrina, there aren’t as many eyes and ears in the neighborhood as there used to be. Neighbors in sparsely populated areas are sharing information, a dynamic that needs to be nurtured and reinforced [by the NOPD].”
• The city should send notes of “thanks” to college students who have helped New Orleans since Katrina – then ask them to consider returning as police recruits.
nThe city should offer to buy police officers’ sick time and annual leave to increase their cash flow – and give them reasons for staying on the force. “Do it now, before the next storm.”
Martin is optimistic that the city can break crime’s grip. “We have done it before and we can do it again,” he says. “But we can’t do it the same way we did before. The circumstances have changed.” The solutions are “at the political level.”
With a smile, Martin recalls advice he received from Louisiana National Guard (ret.) Col. Mickey Evans, author of a May 31, 1994 study of the NOPD: “If you always do what you always did, then you will always get what you always got.” Like Martin, Evans thought about NOPD a lot – and outside the box. For example, Evans’ report listed 38 “excuses” used by NOPD rank to avoid improving “services to their customers” – the citizens.
Number one: “This is New Orleans; it won’t work here.”
Thirteen years later, Graymond Martin appears undaunted as he prepares to test-fire an idea.
“You ready?” he asks.