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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have a real treat for us to today, ladies and gentlemen. Bernard Melekian, he is the director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as the COPS office, www.cops.usdoj.gov to talk about what’s happening with the COPS office and where the COPS office is going. Before we get into the interview with Director Melekian, I want to thank everybody once again for your calls, for your letters, for your emails. If you want to comment in any way, shape, or form in terms of what it is that we do here in D.C. Public Safety, please feel free as you already are doing. You can follow us via Twitter that is twitter.com/lensipes, L-e-n S-i-p-e-s. If you want to get in touch with me directly via email, it’s Leonard, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can simply go in and comment in the comment area, which most of you do, which is media.csosa.gov. And simply comment in the comment boxes. CSOSA stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a parole — a federal parole and probation agency here in downtown Washington, D.C. And again, it’s my pleasure to re-introduce Bernard Melekian. He is the executive Director, Director of U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as COPS, a gentleman with 37 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years within the Coast Guard Reserve. Again, Bernard, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.
Bernard Melekian: Thank you, Leonard, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Len Sipes: You know, 37 years in law enforcement, that’s enough to tell 10 billion stories.
Bernard Melekian: At least, at least. It’s been a fascinating career. I feel–I do feel very blessed to have gotten to spend my adult life doing something I love doing. And I’ve gotten to continue that here in Washington.
Len Sipes: You know, it is a profession. It is a calling. For those of us who have been in law enforcement, those of who have been in the criminal justice system, we’re passionate about what it is we do, because we see the direct benefits to so many citizens.
Bernard Melekian: You know, that’s absolutely true. I think and I think it was doubly interesting is that very often the people that you help when you’re a law enforcement officer don’t see it or aren’t aware of it. The–I’ve always teased my fire department colleagues about the fact that everyone loves them even–because they’re contribution is so tangible.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Bernard Melekian: But what happens with law enforcement is very often the positive benefit is long-term or it’s unseen. And I’ve often thought that police officers labor in an unfortunate obscurity.
Len Sipes: The first time I was involved with a terrible automobile accident. And I was there by myself. And I literally saved the individual’s life. About a week later, his parents came in, it was a young man involved in an automobile accident. And they were hugging me. And they were crying. And you know, I–from that, I’m saying, my heavens, what other profession do you have where you can make such a direct contribution to the welfare of others? I mean, I understand that law enforcement has its own stereotypes. Law enforcement carries its own baggage. But for those of us who are privileged to have served in law enforcement capacities, you know, how many people come up to you in your lifetime hugging you and crying because you’ve saved the life of their child?
Bernard Melekian: Well, not too often. And I think your experience was probably unique or–although I suspect if I was on the questioning end of this interview, I would imagine that more people had complained to you than that family that hugged you and thanked you for your service. I think all–very often that part of what happens is that police officers intervene in people’s lives usually under negative circumstances. Usually they’re either, you know, stopping you for apparently no reason, or a reason that may not be clear, or you’re being issued a citation that you clearly don’t deserve, or you’re–you’ve been the victim of a crime. And the officer’s there to take a report. But there’s not a sense that the officer can do anything tangible. I think that–I think that one of the things that police work has done, and needs to do a better job of, is marketing itself and marketing what it is that men and women do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across this country in events large and small to make their community safer.
Len Sipes: And that’s the heart and soul of COPS, is it not? The concept of connecting with the community, the idea of making sure that partners are involved, making sure that the community is involved and making sure that everybody is connected, everybody is interdependent, and the community is not out there on their own. The law enforcement agency’s not out there on their own. They’re interconnected. They’re talking. They’re solving problems together. That’s the heart and soul of the COPS concept, is it not?
Bernard Melekian: Absolutely. And I’ve been in this business long enough, 37 years as you mentioned, to have come up under what was called the professional model of policing, which was that–which was an arm’s length sort of just the facts Jack Webb “Dragnet” model, which actually was very deliberately focused on not connecting with the community, because the focus really was to deal with how to make sure that professionalism implied absolute objectivity. It became apparent as the years went forward, and I came in this business in 1973, became apparent as the years went forward that that system wasn’t working. And there’s a whole long laundry list, really, of reasons why it didn’t work. But it became clear that it–we needed to connect with the community in a way that we did not, to use or word, partnerships, I’ve always believed that community policing at the end of the day was really nothing more than building relationships and solving problems. And it’s something the police officers do quite well. I would argue and have argued that for most of the agencies in this country, particularly rural agencies, and small towns, that they do community policing by default and always have, and probably just didn’t call it that.
Len Sipes: Well that’s been my point for years, Bernard. It is, you know, the interesting part about it is that we have been doing community policing for years. So there’s an awful lot of police officers out there, who have spent time with community organizations, spent time with gangs in the street, spent time walking, talking. And from that, developing good leads as to who was doing the bad stuff. But there has to be a trust relationship between–it all comes down–it doesn’t come down to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Bernard Melekian: No.
Len Sipes: It doesn’t come down to the chief of police. It comes down to that individual police officer, whoever he or she may be, willing to interact with the community on a very personal level, not out of an officer friendly public relations approach. We’re doing this because it works, correct? We’re doing this because it solves crimes. We’re doing this because it solves problems. So that’s the heart and soul of the COPS office, correct?
Bernard Melekian: Absolutely. And I think there’s this picture, this stereotype of what community policing is, that it’s–we all go to the–the officers go to the neighborhood barbeque, and everyone holds hands and sings kum ba ya.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: But the reality is, and that may be a piece of it, but the reality is, for example that I guarantee you that if I look at a department that has a high crime solvability rate, particularly crimes of violence, I guarantee you that they have a solid community policing program going on because those detectives and those line officers have relationships in the community, have relationships with people who have information. And not only have the information, but trust the officers and trust the department enough to give that information up.
Len Sipes: We live in a CSI world. Too many people watch all these programs at night. My wife–I drive her crazy because I cannot watch them in any way, shape or form because their reality, the television realty is so distant from the reality on the street. And I think what you just said, it’s correct. The vast majority of what is accomplished is accomplished not through neutron activation analysis, not through fingerprints, not through DNA, not through CSI investigators. The vast majority of crimes are solved because that police officer has good, solid connections with that community. That detective has good solid connections with the community. Would you agree with that or disagree?
Bernard Melekian: I would agree with a caveat. I absolutely agree that the relationships are critical. And I have believed that and attempted to practice that throughout my career. I don’t know whether it’s unfortunate or not, but the–certainly the state of the evidence required today to bring a case to trial, and to obtain a conviction has been–that bar has been raised significantly. And in some ways, programs like CSI have contributed to that because the people who serve on juries have watched those programs as well.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: And they have an expectation of what it is that they’re going to see-
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: –when they get to the courtroom. And if they don’t see it, or they don’t see some version of it, most prosecutors will tell you that the risk of an acquittal starts to climb.
Len Sipes: Are the juries stuck with us. We’re just regular John Doe and Jane Doe shmucks. We’re not the very pretty, very good looking, very well educated, very well funded–
Bernard Melekian: Very articulate and–
Len Sipes: Very articulate, very glib–did I say young and extremely well dressed detective, who solves–
Bernard Melekian: Right.
Len Sipes: –crimes within a half an hour. That’s television.
Bernard Melekian: Right.
Len Sipes: The juries are stuck with you and I. And we’re just regular–
Bernard Melekian: And their computers, I’ve noticed, are never down.
Len Sipes: Yes, and they always have everything. I mean they roll up with more equipment than I’ve seen in a lifetime. Now the COPS office does what? I mean, let’s set that up. I mean you guys basically set the standard for the country in terms of what community policing is. And we go from there please?
Bernard Melekian: Well, I think it’s important to–as we have this discussion, to look quickly at the history of the COPS office. And the COPS office came into existence in 1994. It was–its purpose was to advance community policing, a concept that had been born out of the broken windows theory and about a recognition, particularly in the nation’s urban centers that relationships with the police and the community, particularly the minority community was not what it should be, and to try to make some strides in that.
The–under President Clinton and under then Senator Biden, the office was brought into existence. And its purpose was to advance community policing.
At the same time, because if you recall in the ’90’s, the crime rate was so significant, there was also a pledge that that office would put 100,000 additional officers on the streets of America–
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: –for the purpose of making America’s community safer.
Len Sipes: Which you essentially did, the office did.
Bernard Melekian: And the office did do that. Unfortunately, or the fortunate part was that it worked. Crime did go down. And I happen to–and while there’s a great deal of sort of back and forth about why crime went down in the 90’s, I am a very big adherent of the concept that cops count. Cops do make a difference. And that those 100,000 cops were in large measure responsible for that crime reduction, not the only reason, but certainly one of.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Bernard Melekian: However, the–I think then the view of the COPS office shifted from a focus on community policing, to a focus on hiring. And–
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: –I think most of America’s law enforcement, sheriffs and detectives and political leaders have come to see it as sort of what I only half jokingly call the federal ATM machine. And if you can figure out what the–
Len Sipes: I’m sorry. That’s a great line.
Bernard Melekian: If you can figure out the PIN number, you can get some police officers out of it. And that was only part of the case. And I think sort of fast forwarding to 2009, where–and I have to tell you in 37 years, I have never seen, I’ve seen the economy rise and fall. I’ve seen problems as we all have. I have never seen the devastation to local law enforcement that this economic collapse brought about.
Len Sipes: Totally agreed. It is happening throughout the country.
Bernard Melekian: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: I just read in the Chicago papers about 450 state troopers in Illinois being laid off. Every day, because I–
Bernard Melekian: Right.
Len Sipes: –subscribe to three newspaper services, every–and Google alerts. And every day, all that–all those articles from throughout the country are pushed towards me. And I would say at least 20 percent to 30 percent of them deal with budget cuts. And what’s happening in the criminal justice system throughout the country is literally devastating.
Bernard Melekian: Yeah. The irony is that we as a profession, we as a society, I think, had started to make some great strides, and were really positioning ourselves over the next 10 to 20 years to do something very strategic. And instead, most chiefs and sheriffs and I’m sure court administrators and district attorneys and public defenders, no one came in this business to do less. Everybody came into the criminal justice system to do more, to make it better, to make society better, whatever your–whatever approach–wherever you come from on that.
And instead, they’re faced with this need to cut back. Well, in 2009, in addition to the normal COPS hiring money, the Recovery Act funds were added to that. And so, the COPS office gave out just over a billion dollars in hiring grants.
Len Sipes: That’s a lot of money.
Bernard Melekian: In fiscal year 2009. It is a lot of money, but the downside was, or the other side of that coin was that there were over $8 billion in requests. We funded 1043 law enforcement agencies. We–out of–over 7,000 agencies that filed requests. So clearly, the gap between the need and the resources to meet that need is huge.
Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program. Bernard Melekian, he is the director of the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing services COPS program. Now both of you are smiling. Did I blow the last name? Am a constantly blowing the last name?
Bernard Melekian: Melekian.
Len Sipes: Melekian. I’m sorry. And then I’ll get–
Bernard Melekian: All right, I will say that your pronunciation is the most common.
Len Sipes: Well, now I’m going to get my dozen emails from, particularly from the New York City area, going Leonard, once again, you proved that you cannot get a name correctly. Okay, so www.cops.usdoj.gov. And the idea here is that not only do you, the COPS office, continue to fund positions in law enforcement, but you continue to provide some sense of moral guidance as to where the law enforcement community should be going. And consequently, the rest of us in the criminal justice system, where the community should be going in terms of its relationships to the community.
Bernard Melekian: Well, my hope is that, and my belief is that American law enforcement does not need Washington to provide a moral compass for how they serve the community. What I think we do is to help articulate what community policing is, and how those federal resources should best be used.
As I said, I think there’s this view of the COPS office as a hiring arm of the federal government. I–what I want people to–sheriffs and police chiefs and elected officials across this country to realize is that we are not going to solve the economic challenges that the cities and counties of this country face. And we ought not to be viewed that way. What we can do, and what we will do is to provide three or four year problem solving grants. In other words, what is it in your community, what challenges are you facing? Is it gangs? Is it– I just came from a meeting in El Paso of the southwest border sheriffs who face, you know, a unique–
Len Sipes: A lot of problems.
Bernard Melekian: –set of challenges–
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Bernard Melekian: –that really are unique to American law enforcement. Those are specific community problems that the hiring of additional personnel to address those problems is exactly what the COPS office was designed to do.
Adding to that, I think as we go forward, is to encourage agencies, and I think the economy is going to do this, to encourage agencies to enter into regional projects and to enter into regional collaborations and partnerships.
Len Sipes: Bernard, we’ve been talking a lot about the money that the COPS office provides. And–but isn’t this more an issue about telling the rest of us, instructing the rest of us, helping the rest of us in the field understand what is important, what works, what doesn’t work in terms of community oriented policing?
Bernard Melekian: Yes, I think it is. I mean, I think one of the things, community policing by definition is unique, is unique to the community that it serves. What works in Brooklyn, Iowa is probably completely different than Brooklyn, New York. And I think it has to be shaped that way. I think so one of the things that we’ve tried to be clear on, the COPS office historically has never attempted to tell agencies what they should do, what community policing was for them. But I think we do have an obligation to search out evidence based practices, look for best practices, share that information, and structure our funding mechanism, so that they become goals to strive for.
Len Sipes: Right. But the best practices, I mean, there are–there’s got to be some sense of a collective whole of knowledge in terms of look, we both know, and we talked about it at the beginning of the program, stoic cops who don’t communicate with the community are people who don’t solve a lot of crimes. There’s got to be some level of communication with the community. And unless that level of communication is there, community oriented policing doesn’t work, correct?
Bernard Melekian: Yes. And I think–I think the–it needs to go beyond that. I think it needs to be a–that communications piece has to be combined with a level of technical competence. And by technical competence, I refer to culturally technical, as well as sort of instrumentally technical.
Policing in America’s communities large and small today is far more complex than when I came in to this business. We can talk about and should talk about issues of race and ethnicity, for example. But when I–in the 1970’s, that was really America–when America talked about race, they talked about black and white. In the department that I came from in California, there were 23 languages spoken in the school district. How do you communicate when you can’t speak the language? And you clearly are not going to be able to simply do that by hiring a certain number of people who can speak a particular dialect.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: There is technology out there that has to be grasped. There are cultural sensitivity issues that have to be grasped. And so the definition of community policing almost by default has become far broader than it was 20 years ago. The COPS office wants to help and can help agencies identify resources, what are other departments doing, what have other departments done. We do provide training and technical materials, but we’ve also said if you’re going to hire police officers to interact with your community to advance community policing, then we’re–we want to know exactly how you’re going to do that. We want to measure it. Hiring officers is an output. Achieving community policing is an outcome. We’re striving for outcomes.
Len Sipes: But in essence, once again, it is the community policing, the heart and soul of it. I mean, you have a debate in this country right now in terms of, you know, a problem oriented policing, problem solving policing. You’re talking about targeting high risk offenders, which is something that we do with the Metropolitan Police Department here in Washington D.C., where we target high risk offenders, who are on our case loads. There’s all sorts of forms of policing, but my guess is community oriented policing is getting away from stove pipes and recognizing once again that without the community support, it doesn’t matter what we do. I mean, is that a reality or not? I mean, we have to have the community support to be effective. And through community policing, we use whatever mechanisms are available to get that community support.
Bernard Melekian: I think you’ve touched on a very important point. First of all, the community support is critical. If we don’t have community support, then you simply have an army of occupation. And that, you know, we don’t have enough police officers or the–nor is that a particularly effective way to, you know, to do business.
Having said that, all the things that you mentioned are simply styles, in my opinion, styles of providing community policing. Problem oriented policing is very effective. There’s a concept that’s come out of Los Angeles called predictive policing. That’s got some interesting possibilities to go with it.
There’s a model out of Providence, Rhode Island, which I think is really where the future of policing is likely to go, called the Teaching Police Department, which pairs a department with an academic institution for the purposes of studying what that organization is doing, identifying what works, and what doesn’t work. And if it does work, why is it working? And then, share that with the field as a whole.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: The COPS office can facilitate that. As departments want to undertake experimental efforts, for example, to try to address specific community problems, not again, Washington’s not going to make any effort to say this is what you should do. But if you’re going to try this, we want to be able to measure it. And if it works, we want to share it with the rest of the country.
Len Sipes: Right, but do we not have that collective source of knowledge, though? I mean, when I worked for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse as the senior specialist for crime prevention, it was my job to figure out what was happening in Albuquerque, and what was happening in Albany, and what was happening in San Francisco and whatever was working, and to build either documents or a collection of resources or referral sources. So when another police department came in and said I’m interested in, oh, I don’t know, anti-burglary programs. I can say, hey, he–these four cities have really interesting programs. Go and talk to them. I mean, there’s–somebody’s got to be at the center of all of this, dispensing the collective wisdom of what’s happening in the country.
Bernard Melekian: You’re absolutely right about that. And that really is what NIJ, National Institute of Justice has done a pretty good job of doing that. But the fact of the matter is that most local practitioners very often because they’re–what they’re dealing with is so immediate, and so seemingly unique to their community, that they may not even be aware of the resources that are out there.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: And one of the things that Attorney General Holder has been very clear about is wanting to break down those stovepipes, and wanting to build mechanisms, so that information is available across the board.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: And part of the COPS office mandate in my opinion is to share with the field where those, not only what’s out there, but where they can go do their own research.
Len Sipes: And it’s interesting because I totally agree with you, by the way, is that I’m not quite sure sitting in Washington, D.C. for probably a good part of my career is not, you know, is nothing comes out of me or anybody else, that’s particularly wonderful in terms of knowledge. All we do is suck up the knowledge of the experiences of what’s happening at the local level, and share it with others. I mean, it’s really what’s happening in the cities and the counties and the states throughout this country. And they push it to us. And we somehow, some way get the word out about what they’re doing.
The ideas, the true innovation in law enforcement is not coming from D.C. It’s coming from the individual police departments.
Bernard Melekian: That’s correct. And one of the goals that I have for the COPS office is that all too often, those agencies that do unique groundbreaking effective kind of things all too often you find that when the chief leaves, so does that particular program.
Len Sipes: And why is that? Why is it that leaders, when they transition, a new person comes in and he wants to put his or her own stamp on the program. There is no state of the art in terms of community based policing, where the person comes in and says oh, obviously, I need to continue doing what my predecessor did. Why is that?
Bernard Melekian: Well, I think one of the things that we–and one of the goals the COPS office is to really institutionalize community policing and community policing practices. You know, one of the–in what I thought was the–a groundbreaking book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins talked about what makes a truly great organization. And one of the things that he talked about was the fact that you have to–in order for an organization to consider itself great. It has to be able to sustain its growth or sustain its success, whatever you’re measuring through at least one change of CEO, one change of leadership.
Because if you don’t do that, then the leader may have been very effective, but the program was a function of his or her leadership, and not a function of the idea. One of the reasons that I’m so intrigued by the Teaching Policing Department model is if we can measure a program, if we can find ways to evaluate groundbreaking programs that work, and share them with the field in kind of a personality neutral way, I think we may be able to get buy-in, not just from the executive level, which is traditionally where sort of creative, progressive thinking at least on the surface seems to start, but really get it down to the middle management and first line supervision level, which will accomplish two things. One, it means it actually get done because people are invested in it. And two, it will mean that the police chiefs of 10 years from now are invested in this kind of vetting.
Len Sipes: So in the final minutes of the program, this is what I’m hearing. COPS is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice that seems to do two things. That seems to A, provide money to hire police officers or to fund specific programs that are truly innovative, and B, provide the leadership in terms and then to share the experience of what’s happening with law enforcement agencies throughout the country. So whatever good things Rochester, New York is doing can be replicated in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Is that the heart and soul of COPS?
Bernard Melekian: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay. So it is the–that sharing part of it, and that funding part of it that most people who are listening to this radio program can go to your website, www.cops.usdoj.gov. And on the website, what I read and in terms of your magazine, the COPS magazine, through your website and through your magazine, which is free, by the way, for anybody who wants to obtain it through the website, they can get a sense of what the state of the art is in terms of community based policing?
Bernard Melekian: Yes, that’s correct. If you go to that website, and we’re really working very hard on updating that website and bringing the best–links to the best practices, both in terms of police departments and academic institutions in our regional community policing institutes across the country, and having the resource available for the field.
Len Sipes: Okay, so the website, the magazine is a point of dissemination. And the philosophically community based policing is not–doesn’t have a national definition. Every police department for themselves have gone to figure out what community based policing means for them. If there is an issue in terms of the Spanish speaking community, and that happens to be the priority and lots of crimes are being committed there, and you’re not getting the cooperation, that police department’s not getting the cooperation, then for that particular police department, outreach efforts to the Spanish speaking community, and sitting down and talking with them and figuring out common strategies to approach a crime problem, that would be their strategy.
In another city, it could be burglaries and figuring out the best way of communicating with citizens in that area about burglary, so they can get the information they can need to catch perpetrators. I think–
Bernard Melekian: I think if I could just interrupt for a second.
Len Sipes: Please.
Bernard Melekian: I think there is a–I think in a way, there–hopefully going forward from this point, is that there is a national definition of community policing and that’s building relationships and solving problems.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bernard Melekian: What–and the examples that you cited are exactly on point. In each of those cases, in spite of probably different geographical locations and certainly different sort of tactical concerns, at the end of the day, that police department needs to build relationships, whether it’s with the Spanish speaking community in one city with it’s–whether it’s a group of effective neighbors–affected neighbors in another city, there has to be a relationship there. There has to be a line of communication there.
Now then we get into the issue of how do we do that? That’s really tactics. But the strategy is to build relationships and solve that community’s problem.
Len Sipes: And it is also, in the final analysis, as we close out the program, there’s a larger sense that we within the criminal justice system, we can have an impact. And we do have an impact. There’s no doubt that law enforcement has an impact on the–
Bernard Melekian: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: –quality of life and criminal activity within an area. But in the final analysis, we’re going to be–law enforcement is going to be much more effective if we have the full cooperation and blessing of the community. And the only way we have the full blessing and cooperation of the community is to work with them as cooperatively as we can.
Bernard Melekian: And really to help neighbors and residents realize that they are the solution, that ultimately, it is their commitment to their quality of life and their willingness to work with the department to achieve that, that becomes the essence of community policing.
Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Our guest today has been Bernard Melekian. He is the Executive Director–the Director, rather, of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as COPS. The website www.cops.usdoj.gov. Once again, we really appreciate all of the letters, all of the phone calls, all of the emails, all of the comments in the comment box, all the interaction that you provide us in terms of what you would like to see in the show. You can feel free, once again, to reach me directly via email. Leonard, email@example.com. We’re up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio show, television show. The blog and transcripts, and we are really in your debt for all of the interaction that you have with us. And we want you to have a very, very pleasant day.