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VOL. 121 | NO. 76 | Friday, April 7, 2006

Operation Blue C.R.U.S.H. Advances at MPD

Police say they want to garner public support by getting the word out

By Andrew Ashby

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CATS ON THE PROWL: A group of undercover officers in Operation Blue C.R.U.S.H.'s Criminal Apprehension (CAT) Team trains recently at one of the program's facilities. Blue C.R.U.S.H. uses statistical information to pinpoint crime hotspots in greater Memphis. -- Photograph By Lt. Susan Lowe, Memphis Police Department

The Memphis Police Department is thinking outside the box to be able to put more criminals in one.

Operation Blue C.R.U.S.H. (Crime Reduction Using Statistical History) involves using mapping and statistical information to target crime hot spots and chronic perpetrators.

"It's putting the right people in the right places on the right day at the right time," said Dr. Richard Janikowski, an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis.

The department and the university's crime analysis staffs work together to identify problem areas. Traditionally, officers only were able to look at crime statistics in each precinct or in patrol areas or wards. C.R.U.S.H. involves using technology to narrow crime areas down in a process called "hotspotting." Officers also can find out what times crimes are most likely to occur.

"By looking at a ward, you may think the whole ward is hot, but then when you really zero in, you find it's a corner of the ward," Janikowski said.

Breaking the mold

By identifying specific areas and times, the department is better able to focus its resources.

Deputy Chief Dewey Betts, a 29-year veteran, helps implement the C.R.U.S.H. protocol. He said he likes the way the police department is using its resources more effectively to address crime hot spots in the city. One way this is being done is through blending different units together.

For example, supervisors could take a traffic unit, which takes traffic reports and runs speed radar, and direct it to an area with several reported robberies. This provides some additional police presence for when the patrol units are on a call. Supervisors also could send a CAT (Criminal Apprehension Team) unit, which consists of mostly plainclothes officers to run surveillance.

"We're reaching out to every segment of the community to get people to understand what we're doing. In the past, we've not talked about a lot of the things we do and why we do them. We're being much more open about it because we've got to have the citizens' support."
- Deputy Chief Dewey Betts
A 29-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department

This is different from just having traffic units handling traffic, narcotics units handling narcotics investigations and so on.

"In the past, everyone had their little boxes, so to speak, and we didn't play in each other's boxes very well," Betts said. "This way, we're bringing more than one resource to bear on a particular problem."

Tactical maneuvering

C.R.U.S.H. started with five pilot programs in August 2005, which were used to evaluate different tactics.

The first program was a saturation detail, in which several units were pooled together and used to hit several crime hot spots in the city. The department solicited feedback from almost 200 police supervisors before and after saturation, including what worked, what didn't and why.

"It was a great learning experience because we listened to the people who actually do the work," Betts said.

Another program targeted a rash of robberies against Hispanics.

In 2005, there were almost 80 cases a week involving perpetrators robbing Hispanic people. The department used a Hispanic action response team, which had many fluent Spanish speakers, as well as portions of several other units. The first day of the operation ended with 23 arrests.

"They were able to zero in with their investigative resources and that's where they took a whole bunch of gang members down," Janikowski said.

Some of the programs anticipated problems, such as one to prevent victimization of Hurricane Katrina evacuees coming into the Memphis area. The department focused its efforts on areas with a high concentration of Louisiana license plates.

"They were able to put police there and suppress that victimization," Janikowski said.

On the offensive

The U.S. Justice Department recognized those efforts by donating $1,000 recently.

The MPD also has organized units around the strategy of targeting particular crimes. One of them is a felony assault unit. The department noticed serious aggravated assaults were getting dumped into the regular investigative system. Now it has a bureau dedicated to this type of offense.

Janikowski said it appears to be working, as the clearance rate on aggravated assault cases recently rose from 12 percent to almost 50 percent.

"That's a big deal because if you can get the guys doing aggravated assaults, you could very well be preventing a homicide in the future," he said.

Another feature of C.R.U.S.H. is the nuisance action tactic.

When a home or business is determined to be an obvious crime hot spot, then it can be shut down.

After a number of arrests or police complaints occur in one spot, Shelby County Prosecutor Bill Gibbons files a nuisance action petition in court. If it's approved, the department can board up a home and evict the residents after giving a few days' notice.

"We're able to close these houses down," Betts said. "We made some impact in some neighborhoods that have really needed it. It takes time, but it's having a positive impact."

Betts said the department has been talking to neighborhood watch, faith-based and business groups - and anyone who will listen about Operation Blue C.R.U.S.H.

"We're reaching out to every segment of the community to get people to understand what we're doing," Betts said. "In the past, we've not talked about a lot of the things we do and why we do them. We're being much more open about it because we've got to have the citizens' support."

Betts also said C.R.U.S.H. is one of the most exciting developments he's seen since he's been involved with the department.

"I'm very confident that it's going to work because we've already seen the beginning of the results," he said. "The more we get this incorporated, the better our results are going to be."

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