Montclair Must Step Up And Self-Fund The Community Policing Initiative.

As the federal government returns local budgetary control back to Montclair, Montclairites must decide to self-fund the Community Policing Initiative.

Lt. Williams, MPD Community Policing / Image : Michael Stahl
Lt. Williams, MPD Community Policing / Image : Michael Stahl

As jobless claims drop to their lowest level in 45 years and as income tax rates have recently fallen, more Montclairites are working and their collective take home paychecks are a little larger. With less tax going up to the federal government, obviously less will be able to come back down into Montclair for formerly federally funded initiatives. Now the question as to which of our local programs will be self-funded is now ours to consider. With the aforementioned taxes not going up to the federal government, those monies now remain in our community. The money is here, can we agree to self-fund the Community Policing Initiative?  

As tensions rise in an increasingly divided nation, one topic of debate which has recently come to the forefront is the implementation of a volunteer program called Community Policing. First introduced in the 1970s, Community Policing is, at its core, simply a systematic approach to policing. By standardizing policing and focusing on collaboration between the community and the police, the program aims to instill a sense of community and effectively address community problems.

On September 15, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions began to defund the program. Although it is difficult to enumerate the number of communities that such legislation will affect, one place that will be impacted is Montclair, NJ, where the program has been in effect since 2013.

Ideas about the role that police should play within societies have changed over time. The reform era (1930-1970) saw the distancing of police from their communities in an attempt to lessen the impact of any corruption. Police became more federally regulated and less connected with their communities. The unrest and riots of the sixties, however, were often met with what people viewed as unnecessary police brutality, further straining police-community relations. It was at this time that police administrators realized that a change in the system needed to be made. The Program of Community Policing was thus created in an attempt to marry the Reform Era’s more structured training with a connection between the police and their communities. To that extent, the program consists of three main elements: strategic-oriented policing, neighborhood-oriented policing, and problem-solving policing. Today the program has been in practice for over thirty years.

In 1994 the U.S. Department of Justice created The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in order to further advance the practice of Community Policing which they characterize as beginning with “a commitment to building trust and mutual respect between police and communities. It is critical to public safety, ensuring that all stakeholders work together to address our nation’s crime challenges. When police and communities collaborate, they more effectively address underlying issues, change negative behavioral patterns, and allocate resources.”

For the U.S. Department of Justice, the goal of Community Policing is not reduced crime; it is a stronger relationship between the police and the community. In that respect, data suggest that the program has been successful. A study done by The Journal of Experimental Criminology indicated while the percent of reduced crime is insignificant, citizen satisfaction with the police has increased drastically.  

Community Policing was implemented in Montclair in September of 2013 in an attempt to reconnect the police with the town. Years before a Community Service Unit had been in place, but due to budget restrictions it was dissolved in 2008. The unit was re-established by Sgt. Tyrone Williams who continues, to this day, to play an active role in running the unit. Community Policing, as he defines it, “…is a philosophy which is aimed at promoting a partnership between the police and the town”. Now a Lieutenant, Williams believes that, “We can always do more, building the community, continuing forward and hopefully we can continue in the direction we have been coming. We want to revive the old and build new partnerships in collaboration with the town”. This past May, the Montclair Police Department was recognized by the state of New Jersey for its achievements in Community Policing.

Over time the program grew and more communities began to adopt Community Policing. In 2011 the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, created The Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance to provide resources to law enforcement agencies that needed it. One goal of this “collaborative-reform” was to aid police-community relations. For communities that wanted the program but didn’t have the money to adopt and maintain Community Policing, this initiative provided the resources that they needed.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has defunded this program, calling it a “federal intrusion” on a state’s rights issue. This action, Session believes, fulfills his “commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime”. The money previously being used to fund COPS will be reallocated to fighting violent crimes.

Jeff Sessions is arguing that by ending the initiative he is returning power back to the states. By cutting taxes, which support programs including Community Policing, it stimulates a rise in economic growth. This is indicated in the strong activity of the economy today. The money which before was collected as taxes and then returned to the states through federally funded programs now remains in the hands of the taxpayers. As control over the type of policing is returned to the states, communities must decide what programs they would like to fund.

In Montclair, Community Policing is one of those programs. The good news, as Lt. Williams puts it, is that, “The reallocation of funds won’t have too much of a damaging effect on Montclair as we don’t qualify for a lot of programs or grants”. The decision must be made, however, as to whether the town still wants to financially support such a program or, rather, to follow in the lead of the Attorney General and put its focus, and its money, on other things.


Article written by Grace Melville with Scott Kennedy as Editor.


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