The Core Mission: Partnerships for Public Safety

By Leonard Sipes, Beverly Hill and Bryan Young. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

It’s 5:30 a.m. at the Fifth District station of Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Jody Tracy, a Branch Chief with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), is here at this early hour to meet with her staff and police officers regarding warrant service. Community complaints about violence prompted the initiative.

Associate Director Tom Williams is also there. “We’re doing more warrant service throughout the city,” explains Williams. “Our objective is to take non-compliant offenders off the street. For example, close to 300 offenders with outstanding warrants were arrested by D.C. Police and CSOSA security staff at our offices during the first six months of the year.

But we cannot pick-up everyone when they make office visits. You’ve got to go out to their homes.” As they serve warrants in the Edgewood Terrace apartment complex in northeast D.C., they encounter enthusiastic residents who welcome the joint presence of MPD officers and CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers (CSOs). CSOSA is the federal agency that provides probation and parole supervision in the District of Columbia.

“Thank God you’re here,” one resident says as he watches the officers go to work. A mother holding a child nods approvingly when told that officers were searching for errant parolees and probationers. “The quicker you can get the bad ones out, the safer we will be,” she states. “Help the good ones, but take the troublemakers,” she added.

Edgewood Terrace, like several other neighborhoods in D.C., is improving economically but still struggling with crime. The day before the warrant service, there was a shooting. Citizens asked for help. Five police cars responded; three CSOSA officers accompanied the police.

“We responded with the police because community supervision is a partnership,” Associate Director Tom Williams explained. “We have to be out there with the police, responding to serious incidents, in order to earn the community’s trust and support.” Central to this collaborative concept of community supervision is CSOSA’s relationships with its partners. CSOSA’s community relations staff attends most of the community meetings in the city where crime is an issue. They also schedule monthly meetings with community leaders in every police district to discuss whatever issues are most pressing to citizens of that area.

CSOSA supervision staff attends monthly intelligence-sharing meetings at every police district. Weekly exchanges of information occur in district subdivisions, or Police Service Areas. Specialized CSOSA teams, such as the Sex Offender Unit, routinely share information with MPD detectives that result in the incarceration of child sex offenders.

Jody Tracy emphasizes that the key to successful collaboration is “information, information and more information.” She sums up the benefits: “The more we can exchange information and take action based on what the community and our law enforcement partners want, the more successful we will be.”

From Community Policing to Community Parole and Probation

Most practitioners agree that community policing has been an effective strategy. The same is proving true for community-based parole and probation efforts. Throughout the country, parole and probation is emerging from its “central office” orientation, putting officers on the street to work side-by-side with police and community members.

From its inception, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency has embraced this philosophy. Created in 1997 as part of a federal effort to relieve the District of Columbia of some state-level criminal justice operations, CSOSA became an independent federal agency in August of 2000. The agency dedicated itself to implementing state-of-the-art community supervision system with high levels of offender contact and drug testing. Caseload ratios are among the lowest in the nation. Almost 50 percent of the population of 15,500 probationers and parolees are assigned to specialized caseloads or are classified as “intensive” supervision, both of which results in more frequent face-to-face contact.

A special unit and treatment services exist for sex offenders (including GPS monitoring), high-risk substance abusers, and traffic-alcohol, mental health and domestic violence cases. Information technology systems may be the best in the country.

What CSOSA Brings to the Table

Effective crime control depends upon the ability to collaborate with the community. CSOSA maintains field offices and learning labs throughout the city in neighborhoods where the offender population is concentrated. At each location, agency operations focus on assessing offender’s risks, closely supervising offenders based on risk, arranging treatment and support services to address offender’s needs, and working in partnership with law enforcement and community-based organizations to provide offenders the opportunities necessary to contribute to family, the workforce, and the community.

Several community leaders insist that the placement of new field offices have stabilized communities. It also allows them direct access to managers about troublesome offenders. CSOSA’s partnerships to promote public safety include the following:

Community Justice Partnerships – Strategic Cooperation among Community Supervision and Law Enforcement Since 1999, CSOSA has worked with the Metropolitan Police Department to establish a citywide partnership designed to help Community Supervision Officers and police be effective resources for each other. The partnership is built on three basic activities:

Intelligence and Information Sharing: Community Supervision Officers and police officers form teams responsible for defined geographic areas to share photographs, addresses, and background information on high-risk offenders. Behind the scenes, CSOSA electronically shares offender data – photographs, names, aliases, associates’ names, criminal histories, employment history, and housing data-with partnering police agencies. A recent article in the Washington Post (“Electronic Trail Leads to Arrest in D.C. Hotel Holdups,” October 1, 2005) documents the sharing of satellite tracking-GPS data that prompted the arrest of an offender implicated in 24 robberies.·

Accountability Tours: Community Supervision Officers and uniformed police officers in marked police vehicles conduct Accountability Tours (joint visits with offenders in the community). These activities have led to multiple arrests for weapons and narcotics violations in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and elsewhere throughout the city. They also reinforce the need for offenders to comply with community supervision requirements, such as drug testing.

Mass Orientations: Community Supervision Officers and law enforcement partners further seek to prevent repeat crime by hosting Mass Orientations, in which police and Community Supervision Officers meet with offenders recently ordered or released to community supervision. Prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia also attend Mass Orientations to warn offenders about the significant consequences of possessing or using a firearm while on probation, parole, or supervised release. The orientation sessions emphasize the collaboration between CSOSA and other law enforcement entities and offer opportunities for job training or other vital services for offenders. Police officers assigned to the meetings have discovered an array of offenders who are suspected in criminal and questionable activities being on CSOSA caseloads. They immediately create joint supervision strategies with Community Supervision Officers that result in offenders being placed on increased supervision or returning to incarceration. In many cases, added supervision and services have lead to increased compliance with the rules of supervision and successful outcomes.

From these activities, police on the street learn who’s on probation or parole, where they reside, and with whom they live. Community Supervision Officers gain the eyes and ears of police who have a presence in the community 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

This structure also provides numerous benefits for additional law enforcement officials. Investigators benefit from having immediate access to current information on offenders. At a recent training session for Metropolitan Police Department investigators, a narcotics unit detective reported that because of her access to CSOSA data, she was able to obtain a search warrant for an offender’s residence and his girl friend’s residence because the Community Supervision Officer had recorded that the offender split his time between two addresses. When she later obtained an arrest warrant in this case, the Community Supervision Officer was able to supply police with complete information about the layout of the house, how many people lived there, and the presence of threatening dog.

The fundamental features of this partnership also make possible key elements of the Project Safe Neighborhoods strategy to reduce gun-related crime in Washington, DC. CSOSA, police and the United States Attorney’s Office collaborate to identify individuals who are aware of or possibly involved in gang-related activity in violent “hot spots” throughout the city. Community Supervision Officers order offenders to attend call-in sessions in which police, prosecutors, CSOSA officials, and community leaders urge the offenders to “clean up their act” or face joint enforcement and prosecution by everyone in the Washington D.C. criminal justice system. These efforts are currently being evaluated.

Faith-based PartnershipsTo assist offenders returning from prison, CSOSA has established a Faith Community Partnership to provide mentors for returning offenders and establish a network of faith-based institutions that offer resources and support programs that can benefit returning offenders. Offenders who maintain family contact during and after incarceration have a stronger likelihood of avoiding arrests, technical violations, and a return to prison after release.

Since March 2002, CSOSA referred 212 offenders for participation in the faith-based mentoring program. 168 (79 percent) of offenders were matched to volunteer mentors who had completed 12 hours of training on mentoring skills and communication.

51 active faith organizations offer more than 90 programs in the areas of addiction, housing, psychological/life skills, vocational development, education/literacy, and community support.

These efforts have resulted in many offenders successfully reintegrating into the community. One offender returning to the city after serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder described it as “The essential ingredient in my ability not to re-offend.” He is gainfully employed, married, and a deacon in his church. “Without the help of the church, God knows where I would have ended up,” he stated.

Community Involvement

CSOSA also maintains a team of five Community Relations Specialists who organize Community Justice Advisory Networks (CJAN’s) in each police district of the city. These networks consist of community members, faith-based organizations, business leaders, and other stakeholders who work together to identify solutions to public safety issues and to promote opportunities for offenders to become productive, law-abiding members of their communities. Highlights of CSOSA’s community outreach activities include:

Hispanic Outreach: The Community Relations Specialist assigned to function as a liaison with the Hispanic community organized a Latino public safety forum in June 2005 and conducts Spanish-language mass orientation sessions among offenders and police on a quarterly basis. Cooperation from the community led to an Accountability Tour with CSO’s and police that produced arrests for guns and drugs.

Community Service: Community Relations Specialists routinely develop agreements with not-for-profit agencies to provide activities for offenders to fulfill court-ordered community service requirements. The team frequently sets up community clean-ups in association with civic groups and arranges for offenders with community service requirements to work at the events. A fall cleanup involving CSOSA offenders over three weekends in the Shepard Park community resulted in tons of trash being removed. “Clean alleys means a safer community,” wrote a community leader in the “Sheppard Park News.”

Community Capacity Building: In addition, Community Relations Specialists coordinated thirty-five events to create opportunities and resources in offenders’ neighborhoods, such as the Anacostia Museum development activities, the Fourth District Mount Pleasant Festival, and the Alfarero Church and North Capitol Collaborative Community Job Fair. In southeast D.C., community leaders and offenders assigned to community service distribute flyers on community meetings. These efforts have lead to increased participation in the meetings.

Education and Trainin CSOSA’s Office of Vocational Opportunities for Training, Education, and Employment (VOTEE) maintains a number of partnerships to address the individual service needs of offenders, such as math and reading skills development, General Equivalency Degree preparation, and job training and placement support. Much of this work occurs through partnerships with other government agencies or community-based organizations, such as the Department of Employment Services (DOES), Jobs Coalition (a faith-community organized network of employers with a commitment to hiring offenders in the community), the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and the Washington Literacy Council. Intergovernmental, business and community cooperation have lead to hundreds of hundreds of offenders finding training and good paying jobs. Some former offenders receiving commercial drivers licensees are now managers who hire others under CSOSA’s supervision. It is not unusual for ex-offenders to make in excess of 50 to 60 thousand dollars each year.

The Overall Impact on Rearrests and Crime

The partnership strategy is making a positive difference in the District of Columbia. According to CSOSA’s information management system, recidivism for probationers (who constitute 70 percent of intakes) is down from 21 percent arrested in 2002 to 13 percent arrested in 2004. The combined rate for probationers and parolees remains flat at 18 percent during the same time period. Baseline data on rearrests for parolees collected before 2002 show larger decreases. Obviously, the degree of CSOSA’s interactions with law enforcement affects the percentage of arrests. Reincarcerations, revocations and drug use have also decreased.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, crime and violence in D.C.decreased since 2002, although the decrease is attributable to a variety of factors. CSOSA is dedicated to establishing effective community and criminal justice partnerships. These activities are essential to achieving the agency’s public safety mission, which results in a safer city.