Policing for Sustainable Communities

A July 31 Sustainable Cities Network article discusses how policing techniques such as community policing helped stabilize and promote sustainable neighborhoods in Madison, Wisconsin.

Fearing he wasn’t using the neighborhood’s strengths to its full potential, [then police officer Nobel] Wray began to look at his position as a neighborhood police officer differently. He realized that a neighborhood couldn’t rely on a single police officer to make long-term improvements. He needed to work with the neighborhood as a whole, bringing interested parties together to ensure long-term sustainability.

It was then that Wray and the Madison Police Department began taking a different approach to crime in habitually bad neighborhoods. Instead of focusing on single events, the Madison Police Department focused their efforts on what they refer to as community policing, a philosophy that embraces problem solving as a way to deal with crime and disorder, while focusing less on specific incidents. …

“Normally what we did was say, ‘Well, there are several burglaries happening and they’re happening at a similar location, so let’s focus on those problems and deal with them,’” Wray explained. “What we did instead was we took that problem solving approach and applied it to an entire neighborhood and we called it Macro Problem Solving.”

Utilizing a common macro problem solving approach called SARA – scanning, analysis, response and assessment – and molding it to fit the needs of the city, the Madison PD developed a five-phase process dedicated to making Madison’s highest profile neighborhoods safer and more sustainable.  …

According to Wray, phase three was where he had his “ah-ha” moment – the moment he began to realize that without engaging the community in improving their neighborhood, long-term success would be nearly impossible.

“We learned right away that if [residents] didn’t believe they could have an impact in their neighborhood you would not get them involved. What happens time and time again is you’ll have a community meeting and if that meeting is not focused on something that someone can do directly, they don’t get engaged. It’s amazing,” Wray said.  …

Twenty-eight years after joining the Madison PD, Chief Wray can attest to the ongoing success of the model. “Vera court, Simpson-Broadway, Willy Street, Mifflin Street, Truax, Allied, Northport, Triangle Neighborhood, all of these neighborhoods are better off than they were 20 years ago because of the sustained, long-term efforts of the Madison Police Department,” he said.

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