Archives for December 2009

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Police, Parole and Probation Tours

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: Hi everybody, welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We’re here today to talk about accountability tours, and that’s when police officers and parole and probation agents together go out into the community and visit the homes of criminal offenders. Close to 8,000 of these events happen on yearly basis, and to talk about accountability tours, we have two principals with us today. We have Lisa Silor who’s with my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and we have Alex Vogel, who’s a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, and to Lisa and to Alex, welcome to D.C. Public Safety. All right, this concept of accountability tours, 7,700 times on a yearly basis, you and officers go out and visit these homes. Sometimes it’s announced, sometimes it’s unannounced, sometimes you uncover weapons, and sometimes you prompt an offender and his mother to get the offender back into rehabilitation programs. Tell me; what is an accountability tour, Lisa?
Lisa Silor: An accountability tour is typically when we go to do a home visit in the area with the police officer that actually works in the area and is familiar with the offenders that we supervise. It’s most effective when we have the officer that works in the area and is used to the same people and kind of has an idea and a feel for the community, and the partners and who’s actually out on the streets and who’s not, who’s doing what they’re supposed to do and who’s not. When we go to do the accountability officer, we’re going with an MPD officer the home, to the residence, and we’re talking to the community, we’re talking to the neighbors, we’re talking to the offender, we’re trying to talk to any family members that might be there to get any information from the family, but also to let the family know that we’re serious, this is, the family member’s supervision is at stake if they don’t make sure that they get their life back in order.

Len Sipes: And you’re trying to get the family involved. You’re trying to get the neighbors involved. You’re trying to get, not just him, but everybody around him involved in terms of his supervision, or prompting him to get back into programs.

Lisa Silor: Exactly. And we’re also getting information from the police in regards to, like I said, whether the person is really doing what they say they’re doing, because when they come into the office, you can have a story, and you can have, I’m in program A, program B, program C, but that might be for 3 hours a day, however, when you’re actually in the street, and you’re actually living your life, you still have 20 hours a day that you have to keep occupied, so the chance that the person is actually being accountable is validated when we’re doing accountability tours with the officer. We’re able to say, yeah, the person really is coming home every day around 7:00 with their work uniform on and goes straight home, other than, yeah, he’s on the corner, I see him with his friends all the time, we think he’s selling drugs.

Len Sipes: Alex, I think what Lisa is saying has a lot of power because we see, as much as we see the offender, and in the District of Columbia, we see them practically more than just about any other jurisdiction in the country, but we still only see them for short periods of time. You’re out there in the community with them. So knowing that you’re teamed up with Lisa to keep an eye on John, I would imagine that that sends a pretty powerful message to John. Tell me about that. So you walk into, you and Lisa or you and another community supervision officer, walks into the house, you knock on the door and there’s a police officer and there’s a parole and probation officer, what we in the District of Columbia call a community supervision officer, what sort of message does that send to the offender?

Alex Vogel: That we’re trying to help you live a productive life back in the community.

Len Sipes: Right. That’s important. The authority of the police officer. I mean, we’re civilians. Even though we carry a badge, we’re still seen as civilians. You’re seen as a law enforcement officer. It strikes me that when you’re there at that door, they suddenly take it much more seriously.

Alex Vogel: They do.

Len Sipes: And that’s important, correct? Lisa.

Lisa Silor: I think that sometimes when you’re in the office, parole and probation, we can tend to sometimes seem a little bit more on the social work side, because we do try to help. We do try to bring the, assess what the issues are with the offender and help them reach their level of function where they won’t be continuously in and out of prison. You know, our ultimate goal is so that you get your life on track and can go on and live a productive lifestyle. However, and I think sometimes that through the offender’s eyes, that they can forget that there is a law enforcement backbone, that there is a law enforcement side of what we do, and if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, there are repercussions. So with that, I think when we go do the home visits with the police, that it emphasizes, while, yes, we are there to help, we are also here to protect the community if you decide not to do what you’re supposed to.

Len Sipes: Right, we tell them up front that, look, we want you to get involved in drug treatment programs and we want you to get involved in mental health programs. We will help you find a job, but if you don’t do these things, if you endanger the public, we won’t hesitate to put you back in prison. We have to go through the court to do that, we have to go through the parole commission to do that, but we’re not going to hesitate to do that, and it’s the police officers who are out there who actually physically make the arrests, but, you know, you see these offenders on the street all the time, do you not, Alex?

Alex Vogel: Yes.

Len Sipes: And do you ever talk to them, do you ever communicate with the community supervision officer that this particular offender who’s under your supervision is hanging out on the corner and causing problems?

Alex Vogel: Yes.

Len Sipes: And tell me about that. It’s basically is a conversation, correct?

Alex Vogel: Pretty much. Like I said, you know, we keep close tabs on them. And like I said, make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.

Len Sipes: Right. And that’s impressive. That’s impressive. Because when I was a police officer and when I dealt with people under parole and probation supervision, they took me sometimes more seriously than they did the parole and probation agent. I mean, you’re the cop, you’re the enforcer, and if they know that you’re exchanging information with the parole and probation people, they’re going to take that seriously. Probably more seriously than us telling them that we’re aware of what’s going on at night. You know? Lisa, tell me about that.

Lisa Silor: We’ve had phone calls in the evenings at night, when our offices are closed. They’ll make phone calls and say, you know, is this guy supposed to be out here? Doesn’t he have a curfew? Or, I think something’s up with him. What’s his story? We’ve also gotten picture messages of you know, guys hanging out on the corner and things, doing what they’re not supposed to do, but its verification. The relationship is, once the relationship is built, it’s between the MPD officer and the CSO’s staff, the CSO. Or even the team. We work in teams, within the agency, we’re broken up into teams. So once the relationship is established, the communication flow is a lot more effective. Officer Vogel and his partner have stopped in the office on numerous occasions and asked for information. You know, is this guy, is he on paper? We have this guy that’s always out here, he’s always getting into trouble. Who’s his PO? Because we know he’s on supervision, we just don’t know who his PO is. So we’re able to say, oh, that’s, you know, the girl right around the corner, let’s go talk to her. So it really is been able to help out and, you know, in situations like that, it gives us a little bit of a benefit because we’re able to then get the offender in the office and confront them, and try to get them before they get in trouble again, before they go out and re-offend, we’re able to try to put measures in place to stop it from happening.

Len Sipes: We can see a steady progression, and Alex, I know you see this everyday. You see this guy, he comes out, and he’s on probation or he comes out of prison, and he’s trying at the beginning, and he’s, you know, going and getting his drug treatment and he’s trying to find a job, but now he’s starting to hang out on the street corner, and now he’s starting to hang out with the wrong people, and now they’re getting louder, and now you’re getting information from the community that he’s involved, say, in burglaries. I mean, you see that steady progression, I think. That’s the power of working with the police officers. They see what’s going on on the street 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Alex Vogel: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So then you are the one who feeds us that information. And I think that’s one of the things that Lisa just said. Without your information, we’re sort of flying blind. We know if he’s going to treatment. We know if he’s violating his GPS with the Global Positioning System. We know whether or not he’s trying to get jobs because we ask where the person is trying to find employment. So there are certain things about him that we know. You know more about him than we do.

Alex Vogel: Once we get to meet them, a face to face basis, you know, we, like I said, we just try to help them get back on track. And if not, then there’s going to be consequences and repercussions.

Len Sipes: Right. And when I as a police officer worked, especially with younger people, I mean, maybe they’re not listening to their father. Lord knows my kids don’t listen to me from time to time, and that’s very frustrating. They may not listen to the father, they may not listen to the mother. They may not listen to the parole and probation agent. But somehow, someway, that police officer carries a lot of authority. And I sometimes think that they will be more prone to listen to the police officer than maybe other people.

Alex Vogel: They do and they don’t. We try to get their family involved. Let them know, you know, it starts from home.

Len Sipes: And Lisa, what Alex is saying is true. I mean, that’s the whole idea behind the accountability tours. It’s just not an enforcement action. It’s just not a ‘gotcha’. Although we’ve walked in to accountability tours and have found guns and have found drugs. But principally what we’re trying to do is get the entire family involved. In one case, a mother was shocked that her son was blowing off any vocational or educational opportunities, and she started yelling at him. When one of the ride-alongs that I was at, and saying, we will be at your office this Monday at two o’clock, and I guarantee you from here on in, he will start attending everything you want him to attend. So it’s just not ‘gotcha’. It’s just not enforcement. It’s also trying to enlist the family, trying to enlist the neighbors, trying to enlist the friends in terms of both keeping an eye on him and encouraging him to do the right thing.

Lisa Silor: Oh, exactly. And I also think that if accountability tours are done consistently on the high risk offenders that once the name and the face and the history of the offender is kind of established with the officer, in the event that something does go wrong and the warrant is issued or they do have a re-arrest, that officer knows exactly where to go, who to talk to and where to go to pick them up. So it’s a benefit to both law enforcement and to CSOSA in the fact that yes, they are trying to help us influence and they’re trying to help us get everybody together to community kind of support,in the community support the person. But also, when it comes to the fact that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do we’re going to have them come out and get you and they know where to go, they know how to get there and they know who to talk to to find you.

Len Sipes: Right, well the whole idea is to know as much about that offender as humanly possible. Not just,I mean in terms of enforcing the warrants, I mean Alex when I was a police officer and I served warrants a lot of times all I had was an address. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to have the girlfriend’s address and the mother’s address and the uncle’s address, places where he’s known to be – that becomes important so…you know the whole thing benefits society from an enforcement point of view, from a programs point of view, but if you have got to serve the warrant at least you’ve got lots of contacts.

Alex Vogel: That’s right.

Len Sipes: You know. I mean I’ve been on warrants where all I had was an address and that’s it. And now you guys have plenty of information if you need to follow-up and track the person down.

Alex Vogel: Right. And they also provide pictures of the offender as well so that really helps out if we don’t know the individual.

Len Sipes: Yeah, and the pictures are,and the other thing is that when I was there sometimes I would have a picture that was like five or six years old. We take pictures, what Lisa, like every six months or so?

Lisa Silor: If there’s an appearance change we’ll take a picture but they’re very current. If we notice that someone has a drastic weight loss or weight gain we’ll ask for a new picture or if you’ve completely changed your hair style we’ll ask for a new picture.

Len Sipes: Right. And I think the bottom line is unless the individual police officers and the individual what we call in the District of Colombia Community Supervision Officers, what most places call parole and probation agents, unless you guys cooperate, unless you guys talk to each other on a day to day basis and do what is in the best interest of the offender, do what is in the best interest of the community it doesn’t work. And I think that’s the power behind this. We can say all we want at the headquarters level. Unless you guys participate it doesn’t work. Alex, you think it’s true?

Alex Vogel: It’s true. We have to go out there and just be proactive and you know, engage these people.

Len Sipes: Right. Lisa?

Lisa Silor: I completely agree. I think that, you know, it’s kind of the best intentions. Unless you actually carry them out you’re not going to get the result. Everyone can,you can mastermind and plan and scheme but unless the people that are going to be on the ground level I guess, doing the work, unless you really are committed too. Once you develop your relationship with your MPD officer it really can be so beneficial to both them and us.

Len Sipes: And you got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half of DC Public Safety where we examine the concept of accountability tours two new individuals, one again from the Metropolitan Police Department, one again from my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency will be here in the second segment with fresh B roll to talk about this whole idea of accountability. Please stay with us.

Len Sipes: Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety, I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes, Benita Johnson from my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is back on the second segment. Troy Hinton is a police officer from the Metropolitan Police Department. As we explore this whole issue of accountability tours,one of the things, Benita, that we really want to focus on is the fact that we’re just not out there on accountability tours with the officers, we do forty five thousand home visits a year by ourselves to verify that an offender really does live at that address and we do twenty one thousand visits where we’re by ourselves or you’re coupled up with another community supervision officer so you’re out there in a community constantly having contact with offenders without the Metropolitan Police Department, correct?

Bernita Johnson: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that becomes an issue. I mean, you’re out there in high crime neighborhoods dealing with some people who have a background of problems and you’re out there, just you, by yourself.

Bernita Johnson: Yes, we’re assigned to certain neighborhoods, certain communities, so usually we have like one,it’s called a police servicing area that we deal with, so we do go and do home visits and verify that people actually live where they say they live. But we’re visiting in communities so these people usually we know a neighbor or we know someone in the area already because we’ve been doing this for so long and we do so many home visits so it’s not really a safety issue it’s more of an issue of getting to know the community because we want to be involved in the community, want them to know that we are here, we supervise you, we know you, we know your neighbor, we know everyone in the community because we supervise particular neighborhoods so it’s not just that a CSO is coming and you don’t really know who they are. Usually the young offenders, their friends, they know each other, say ‘who’s your supervision officer,’ you know, because they know. ‘Oh, you have Miss Johnson? You’ll be ok,’ or they’ll,

Len Sipes: That’s sort of a sad commentary. But Troy, the power of all of this is when I walked up as a police officer decades ago and when I knocked on the door of an offender he sat up and he said oh my God, what are the cops doing here and they’re with a parole and probation agency, you know you take it seriously, really seriously when the police show up at the front door, do you not?

Troy Hinton: Basically, yes you do because you don’t know what to expect.

Len Sipes: Right.

Troy Hinton: Coming from an offender, so, most of the times we go out and do the accountability tours with the CSOSA reps or whatever so we just go down there basically to assist them.

Len Sipes: Right.

Troy Hinton: So basically by working in a neighbor or patrol service area we go out to assist them and mostly all the guys in my area know me so when we knock on their door,

Len Sipes: Now when you say the guys you’re talking about the offenders on supervision.

Troy Hinton: Exactly, the offenders on supervision, so they don’t know what to expect when they see me knock on the door with the CSOSA rep.

Len Sipes: Right. And I think, you know, that is so important. As I said on the first segment we can say all we want at the headquarters level, whether it’s the police department or the parole and probation agency, we can make all the declarations we want that we’re all going to work together as a team, but if it doesn’t happen at the street level it really is meaningless, correct?

Bernita Johnson: Correct. I’ve actually gone on accountability tours with officers who don’t usually work in the area we were visiting so even though I knew the offender the officer didn’t know the area, the officer wasn’t familiar with the main players in the area so it’s definitely a different feel and it wasn’t as effective as working with Officer Hinton. If I go out with Officer Hinton, they know him just like they know me so,

Len Sipes: And it’s powerful because the two of you are from the area and the two of you know the offenders from the area and they’re saying ‘Doggonit, I can’t hang out on the corner because I know that my CSO is going to find out about me hanging out on the corner because Troy knows that I’m under supervision. And that’s the power of this whole thing, correct?

Bernita Johnson: Yes. And we share all types of information, not just they’re on the corner. If something happens, if an offender’s family member is killed, we’re able to find out what’s going on in the community by talking directly with MPD. Whereas normally we might not know something that serious is going on in somebody’s life or household.

Len Sipes: Right, and that could be important. If Troy gives you information Benita that could be important in terms of your safety the next you go and do a home visit. If you know that there’s a rumor in the community that this guy is involved in an act of violence and you’ve got to go to that person’s home, I mean you could be walking into the middle of something completely unexpected so forewarned is forearmed I suppose.

Bernita Johnson: True, but more importantly me knowing that an offender’s brother was just murdered it can help me to effectively assess the offender. If they come into the office and they’re angry or they’re different than they usually are, belligerent, then I can kind of figure out what’s going on with this person. I actually had an offender on my case whose son was killed and he came into the office the next day for his supervision visit and he didn’t bring it up. We knew from the MPD that his son had been killed the evening before but he came in for his regular visit so we were able to really engage him and find out what was going on in his life and provide him with the grief counseling, the services that he needed in order to continue being successful on supervision.

Len Sipes: That either he needs and also from a humanistic point of view, the counseling that he needs and from a public safety point of view intervention to defuse a situation.

Bernita Johnson: And we want him to know that we know what’s going on in the community and we care. Because that can be more effective than being law enforcement oriented.

Len Sipes: Troy, one time I went out into the community and spoke with a police officer from the Metropolitan Police Department who worked with the Community Supervision Officer to get an offender on GPS tracking global position,or satellite tracking where we monitored them twenty four hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year. Word was that he was going out to Maryland and selling stolen goods, goods that were stolen within the District of Colombia. And within a week they were able to pinpoint where he was selling this stuff even though he was on global monitoring they were able to pinpoint the exact location working with the Prince George’s County Police, able to take him into custody and able to revoke him and send him back to prison. That happened because a MPD officer was concerned about the safety of people in the community and the protection of the people in that community working with a community supervision officer. When that sort of stuff happens, when officer to officer from different agencies talk to each other to take the action, to protect public safety, that to me is powerful.

Troy Hinton: Yes, it is, sir. I always thought it was good to share information with other agencies because communication is the key, especially when you’re dealing with offenders so, especially if you use a GPS that’s good for veritrack, so you can track where the offender is in case something happens you can track back or he could miss a crime and we can track back to that date and time where he was exactly at.

Len Sipes: And you have the capacity in your car, the computers in your car, you have the capacity to do that tracking yourselves if you want, correct?

Troy Hinton: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: And that’s powerful. That you have,on any given day there are seven hundred offenders in the District of Colombia who are on GPS monitoring and you have the ability to track any of them if you feel that an offender who was in your community is involved in a crime.

Troy Hinton: Yes.

Len Sipes: Ok. I’m going to ask both of you the same question I asked you in the first segment because I don’t want to leave this conversation about accountability tours as solely an enforcement function. And again, we’ve walked in, we’ve found drugs, we’ve found guns, we have,certainly we’re more than happy to take enforcement action against anybody who is threatening the community. But we also at the same time try to get that offender through the family, try to get that offender back into a GED program or to get a job or to go to drug treatment or to go and get mental health treatment and sometimes it’s that accountability tour that enforces that with the family that their particular offender needs to be in programs. Want to give a shot at that Benita?

Bernita Johnson: Yeah, that’s true. Of course if you go to someone’s home, whether it’s a home visit or an accountability tour then they understand, and you talk to the family members, they can understand how serious the supervision aspect of their family member’s life is and going with the police kind of puts the spin on it that, you know, they could ultimately end up getting re-arrested or going back to jail if they don’t maintain compliance. So, family members are often very supportive once they get over the initial shock of us coming into their homes with the police. They’re very supportive and it’s usually really good conversations and we get a lot of information and a lot of support from the family and the neighbors.

Len Sipes: And sometimes we do these visits unannounced if we feel that the person is involved in something nefarious but we really do a lot of these announced because we want the family members to get involved in the supervision and the treatment if you will of that particular offender.

Bernita Johnson: Yes, the entire community really. We want to get everyone involved, the neighbors, if there’s two young men on supervision and they hang out and we know that then that can help us because we can get them maybe into the same program if they’re friends and they’re the same age. They can kind of hold each other accountable for their actions instead of us always trying to, you know, be demanding. They can kind of hold,you know, help each other out.

Len Sipes: Sure. And Troy, when I was a police officer, I mean I did my best to counsel young individuals that were on the street, I tried to intervene in their lives, I did refer them to their juvenile services person or I referred them to a priest or a referred them to a minister, I tried intervening in the lives of the young individuals, I tried working with the families. Most police officers I believe do that for individuals who are sort of on the fence, could go one way or the other.

Troy Hinton: They about to hang themselves basically. They about to hang themselves because you see them going in that route so you basically want to step in before it gets too bad.

Len Sipes: That’s the point. And sometimes a lot of these individuals lack a father figure, I know we have plenty of police officers who are women but they lack an authority figure in their lives and the idea of an authority figure expressing concern about their well being, I simply know that a lot of cops do it and I simply know I did it, I saw my fellow police officers do it and I’ve seen more than a fair share of Metropolitan Police Officers do the same thing. You guys care.

Troy Hinton: That’s true. Actually, we,sometimes you might have to step up and just take that place of that father figure because you might see that child, specially if you’re working in a patrol service, you might see that same person or their child everyday. So he’s a part of your life.

Len Sipes: Right. And you can see he’s on the edge, you can see he’s on the fence. You can see that he could go to either side. He can start hanging out with the people who are part of the lifestyle or he could start hanging out playing basketball at the community center. That he needs to make that choice and sometimes your intervention helps them make that choice.

Troy Hinton: That’s true. Sometimes you have to be some type of encouragement to that child because if they see their friends taking that type of direction and life and they’re like ‘oh man, I don’t have these shoes, I don’t have these clothes’ they might take the fast money track and [unintelligible]. So sometimes you might just have to step in, give them some words of encouragement.

Len Sipes: And sometimes it’s more than words of encouragement. I’ve taken the kid home to the parents and basically said he is hanging on a corner way too much.

Bernita Johnson: Right.

Troy Hinton: I’ve done that numerous times, even talked to kid’s parents too.

Len Sipes: Right. But we have the stereotype of us, we have an enforcement role. We’re a law enforcement agency, but we’re also there to try to provide treatment. Sometimes it bothers me a little bit as a former police officer that the police officers don’t get the credit they deserve for trying to intervene in the lives of young men and young women.

Troy Hinton: That’s true. Well, most of the public sees us as basically all we’re going to do is come lock someone up all of a sudden. We’ll come lock somebody’s father up. Come to the home in situations of a domestic dispute or whatever. But it’s not,basically I can’t say it’s always like that, we like to do more community policing at times.

Len Sipes: Right. And that, it becomes the strength of this whole relationship. It’s that key of community, the key of the individual officer and the individual community supervision officer, everybody working together to do what is right by this individual. And if doing right means putting them back in prison, so be it.

Bernita Johnson: And I think about certain cases where sometimes one offender’s mother was using drugs in the home and the offender came to us for help and we ended up being able to contact MPD to try to intervene with his situation at home. And sometimes when MPD makes contact with someone and they know that the parents are not going to help they’ll come to us and say this is what’s going on with the person so then we’re able to put certain services in place that we may not have normally because we know that this person may not have the support at home that they need.

Len Sipes: And that sometimes, the struggle at home and not having that support at home, if that community supervision officer comes into play, if that police officer comes into play, that may be just enough support to push that person over the line into a pro-social stance, right?

Bernita Johnson: Yes.

Len Sipes: Ok, you’ve got the final word ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for being with us, from D.C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore another important issue in the criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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