LANCASTER — Consultants from the Chicago-based law enforcement consulting firm Hillard Heintze hired by the City Council to develop a hybrid policing model said community involvement is key to its success.
Consultant Betty Kelepecz said stakeholders interviewed as part of their research were adamant about keeping the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in the city.
“Sheriff’s Department remains, and that is extremely important to our efforts here,” Kelepecz said during a presentation at Wednesday’s Lancaster Criminal Justice Commission meeting.
Those same stakeholders also asked for something different.
“We’re going to re-imagine something that hasn’t really been totally used the same way we’re doing it,” Kelepecz said.
The most important part of the proposed new policing model, which is still under development, are community partnerships.
The proposed model would create districts in the City with a single officer assigned to a particular area as the go-to person. The officer would have the responsibility of working with the community to address their concerns.
Consultant Robert Boehmer discussed the core principles the group will need to operate by, led by building trust.
“This relies on not a police officer just helping the community but it involves the community partnering with the department to solve problems,” Boehmer said.
The new policing model also relies on hiring the right people for the job.
“You have to the have the right people at that the table who have this mindset about problem-solving, about co-producing public safety with the community,” Boehmer said.
The community partnerships would include working with service providers and other government agencies within the community.
“Transparency is a key to building the trust,” Boehmer said.
Consultant Robert Haas said the proposed policing model is grounded in actual practice in other jurisdictions.
“This is the only place in the United States where we’re marrying two agencies together in terms of joint collaboration,” Haas said. “We really made sure that we were listening to what people had to say.”
The proposed police entity would work collaboratively with the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station to provide essential law enforcement services. Central to the proposed model are district peace officers assigned to specific geographic areas. They will have a great deal of autonomy, responsibility, and accountability for what they do in the field.
The proposed police department will have two divisions, an operational division with the district peace officers, and an internal division to support the officers with analytics or administrative support.
“What’s going to be critical here is making sure you put people in the right places in the right geographic area so they can actually be responsive and do the follow-up that the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the time to because of its case load and work load it currently has,” Haas said.
Community engagement is a crucial component for the proposed policing model’s success.
“It’s really the police and the community working together. It’s not the police providing services, but really working in tandem with the community to solve problems, address issues, and really create an environment that they feel safe,” Haas said.
The community peace officers can help with criminal investigations conducted by the Sheriff’s Department to serve as the victim’s contact.
“If you have a situation where your house has been broken into, the investigators come out, do the investigation,” Haas said.
“Who’s doing the follow-up? Who’s connecting back with that family making sure they have the services they need?”
The community peace officer can also connect back with sheriff’s investigators. They would also work flexible schedules to be in their assigned areas when they need to be. Residents in the officer’s assigned district would have the officer’s cellphone to leave messages for the officer to follow up with when they are available.
“What’s critical to this whole model is fixed geographical boundaries,” Haas said. “These folks are assigned to those fixed geographic boundaries an they don’t move around.”
That enables the officer to know the people in his or her district to develop interpersonal relationships, and respond to recurring problems.
The Sheriff’s Department would continue to handle 911 calls for situations that require an immediate response. Quality of life issues that do not require an immediate response could be handled by the community peace office assigned to the respective district.
The propose police model will use analytics to monitor problems and see what is causing the problems.
“A lot of times crime is a symptom of something else; it’s not the root cause of what the problems are,” Haas said. “It’s not just analytics, but its also listening to the community, the community identifying what their priorities are and responding to those priorities.”
The community peace officers would get training locally, perhaps from Antelope Valley College, and other community partners.
“I applaud the effort,” Commission Chairman Jeff Little said. “As I said before the work that’s ahead of you is very ambitious but it’s a great outline. Congratulations. We’ll see what the City Council’s going to do with it.”
The City Council has to approve the hybrid policing model before it can start.
“I think what’s nice about this is it gives us an opportunity to apply different strategies to things and develop a process,” Public Safety Director Lee D’Errico said.
There will be more opportunities for community members to offer input before the proposed policing model is finalized.
The community peace officers would be armed and have the ability to arrest people.
“We’re looking for someone that’s highly motivated, enthusiastic and doesn’t work within just a certain guideline of hours,” D’Errico said.
The ideal community peace officer would be willing to look at all aspects of a potential situation to help resolve it.
They would all be California Peace Officers Standards and Training, or POST-certified, which requires 600 hours of training. They would also get additional training for critical thinking, community policing, and problem solving.
The community peace officers would be city employees.
Most would initially be retired sheriff’s deputies, but could be other individuals over time.
“Public safety is always a collaborative effort,” said Capt. Todd Weber, commander of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. “This is just another layer to that, that we’ll look into. We’ll have to work all the details out but there’s certainly value to it.”
Retired reserve sheriff’s deputy Mike Kuper, who is also a contractor for the city, said deputies are busy going to priority calls.
“We have so many priority calls going out that the routine calls, they just can’t get to them,” Kuper said, adding he is in favor of the proposed hybrid model.
Kuper added he has several retired friends ready to go to work.
“The biggest beneficiaries are going to be our citizens that are going to get some attention,” Kuper said.
“They’re going to get some attention from experienced people that are going to know how to solve their problems.”