OURAY – Things have been unusually busy for the Ouray Police Department since Police Chief Justin Perry came on board last fall. There’s been a fatal mining accident, a search and rescue and ensuing death investigation, domestic violence, an armed standoff, sexual assault, and a plane crash at Ridgway Reservoir that entailed a multi-agency response.
And now, with the arrival of spring, come the bears.
“Yes, they’re back,” Perry confirmed, firmly hanging up the phone after taking yet another call about a dumpster-diving bruin last Friday. “This morning, I saw three garbage cans tipped over on my way to work. The bears are out on the prowl and looking for an easy score.”
Still, aside from the bit about the wild animals, it’s all been pretty tame compared to Perry’s last gig as a patrol sergeant and detective with the Montrose Police Department, where he worked mainly in felonious crimes such as homicides and sex assaults.
During his tenure in Montrose, Perry was also deeply involved in the development of community policing programs including education, community involvement, and prevention.
Now, Perry is in the beginning stages of implementing a similar community policing program in Ouray. “It’s all part of the process of rebuilding the department from the bottom up, purging old ways and bringing in the new,” he said.
Community policing itself is nothing new. Its roots go all the way back to the London police force, created in 1829 as an act of Parliament by Sir Robert Peele (hence the nickname “London bobbies”). Peele, who is widely regarded as the father of modern policing, believed that an effective authority figure must be both trustworthy and accountable. He was fond of saying that “The police are the public and the public are the police.”
“His whole philosophy was to work alongside the public to solve criminal-related problems,” Perry explained. “It worked well and was very effective.”
Today, “There are really two main types of policing,” Perry said. “Traditional policing is reactive, and community policing is proactive. Reactive policing includes response to crimes, after the fact. Unfortunately in our society, policing went in the direction of traditional policing because it was thought of as having a greater ability to control crime, and remove the criminal element with incarceration.”
However, Perry said, “We have found that the real causes of crime are the root problems. Proactive policing is centered on problem solving, searching for root causes of criminogenic behaviors, and coming up with strategies and plans to preventing them.”
There are two key components to community policing, Perry explained. First, there has to be a partnership between the police and the public. Then, there has to be a problem that wants solving.
“Working together to achieve an interdependent, symbiotic relationship, we rely on each other to achieve and solve criminal related problems,” Perry said.
That may all sound kind of touchy-feely. But, in Perry’s experience, community policing really works.
As an example, he points to a pilot program he helped to create in Montrose that empowered the property managers and residents of rental multi-housing properties to prevent criminal-related episodes.
“In the beginning, we were having daily responses to these rental neighborhoods,” Perry said. By the time the program was fully implemented, “We had a nearly crime-free program.”
The program took a three-pronged approach, focusing on education, agreement to abide by certain rules or policies, and zero tolerance for breaking those rules or policies.
First, the property managers, residents and police officers were educated about the community policing philosophy. This began with a “safety social,” a party where all of the stakeholders got together to socialize, network, and discuss the neighborhood’s program.
“To be included in the program, residents had to sign and abide by an addendum to their lease, that they would not participate in criminal related activity,” Perry said. “There is no tolerance for crime. If residents are found to be violating the law they can easily be evicted.”
There was also a focus on “crime prevention through environmental design” or CPTED. Residents and property managers were encouraged to maintain the properties with proper lighting, windows, locking mechanisms and landscaping to deter crime.
The key to making it all work was to establish an open line of communication between the police and property managers. If a resident got into trouble, even outside of the neighborhood where they lived, that information was shared with the property managers, “So they know they have a criminal element living in the subdivision.”
Perry went on to implement similar programs in Montrose related to business, storage, and hotel-motel sectors. “There is always push-back, but the programs are all voluntary, and once the word gets out, having certified programs up front will help eliminate certain criminals from coming in,” he said.
Perry also assisted with development of different kinds of community policing programs that all of the department officers participated in – relating to gangs in parks, schools, and sexual assault awareness. “The Montrose Police Department has done an excellent job implementing the community policing program,” Perry said.
Now, he is anxious to get the ball rolling in Ouray. Over the past several months, he has identified four different areas to encompass the needs of this community: neighborhoods, schools, traffic enforcement issues, and businesses.
Each member of the four-man Ouray Police Department has been assigned to one of those sectors, and will begin building relationships to develop a unique community policing program focused on that sector’s needs and problems.
“We are only as effective as our partnerships or relationships with the community,” Perry stressed. “One big component is information sharing. We rely on citizens to share information with us. It’s impossible to think that one person on duty at a time can effectively solve all of the town’s problems. It takes everybody.
“So many citizens have thought it is the police’s job to solve the crime. But we are all essentially police officers. We [in the police department] are full time, paid employees, but everyone shares in the responsibility of solving and controlling crime.”
The OPD will roll out its community policing program in phases. First will come the Neighborhoods program (overseen by Officer Scott Mills), with implementation targeted to begin by May 30. The Business program and Traffic Safety program, helmed by Chief Perry and Officer James Berry respectively, will be implemented by July 1. And the Schools program, led by Officer Justin Crandall, will be in place by the beginning of the next school year.
“One of the hardest things to accomplish when transitioning from one style to another is that there has to be not just an organizational change, but also a community change,” Perry said. “There has to be a transition with all of us. We have to all see the vision and work together to accomplish it. There is no crime that is intractable with this kind of law enforcement. We can control whatever kind of crime we have, if we work together.”
Even the kind of crime that relates to dumpster-diving bears.
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