After visiting the Harlem Community Justice Center, Katherine McQuay and Zoe Mentel of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) talk about reentry, community policing, and the stimulus package.
The following is a transcript.
ROBERT V. WOLF: This is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. Welcome to another New Thinking podcast. I’m here today at the Harlem Community Justice Center with Katherine McQuay who is a supervisory policy analyst with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and with Zoe Mentel, a policy analyst also with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, otherwise known as the COPS Office. You came to learn a little bit about the Harlem Reentry Court. Maybe you could tell me what interested you in it and what you thought about what you saw.
KATHERINE McQUAY: Sure. The COPS Office is all about community policing, so we’re all about partnering, problem solving, organizational change, and reentry is tailor-made for community policing because it’s all about partnering, it’s law enforcement, with the community and the social service agencies, with other criminal justice agencies. And we’ve been involved with reentry to a small extent in the past. We had a pilot program where we funded five pilot reentry sites, and we’ve required community-based or faith-based organizations to partner with law enforcement agencies, and faith-based mentoring is the centerpiece of those programs.
WOLF: I know maybe it’s too soon. You’re still processing what you’ve seen, but are there some takeaways here, things that you learned or think you might be able to apply?
MCQUAY: Well, I think it really fits with everything we’ve learned over the years. Someone today said, you know, it’s all about partnering, which, you know, that speaks to us, and it’s knowing what everybody else is doing and seeing how we can collaborate because it’s not – no one person can do it alone.
ZOE MENTEL: And what about other lessons that we’ve learned from hearing the parole officers is that offering services isn’t just one more thing that you have to do in the course of your job. It’s something that’s going to make your job easier or make it easier for you to have a positive impact.
McQUAY: And I think that the discussion afterwards emphasized the need for law enforcement involvement because law enforcement can be a detriment to these efforts or a great plus to these efforts.
WOLF: I see.
McQUAY: And I think it really points to the need to partner with law enforcement, to let law enforcement know what you’re doing with these efforts and to try to get them on board so you can work in a coordinated fashion. We’ve talked to jurisdictions; there aren’t many but there are few who do have law enforcement officers and probation-parole officers going out together, so really presenting a united front and working together. And that seems to be a really good idea that’s starting to catch on.
WOLF: As opposed to cross-purposes, it sounds like you can have different goals where the parole-reentry attitude sort of encourages a certain amount of perhaps forgiveness with technical, very technical violations, and the police might be presuming something else along the lines of zero tolerance.
McQUAY: And the reentry parole officer talked about, you know, even if there is a technical violation of parole-probation, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically going back to prison, so there seems to be a new attitude here where you’re really trying to work with that individual and giving them every break possible to help get them on the right road.
WOLF: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about the COPS Office? Tell me about its history.
McQUAY: We were created in 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control Act under President Clinton. And we were initially known for putting a hundred thousand community policing officers on the street. And since then, we’ve done that and much more. We’ve created a network. We call them the RCPIs: the Regional Community Policing Institutes that provide training and technical assistance to law enforcement and the community on a variety of topics. We have a research and evaluation division that does a lot of publications for us on a variety of subjects. We just distributed our 2 millionth publication. And we cover everything from reentry to law enforcement agencies, internal affairs department, to hiring and recruitment to domestic violence, to innovative ways for law enforcement to partner with the community. So we offer a lot to law enforcement and the community on ways to work together.
WOLF: And is that the theme that runs through all your work, the community-oriented element where you’re trying to build bridges between law enforcement and the community?
McQUAY: Exactly. And the three elements of community policing which are partnering, problem solving, and organizational change, getting across the idea that, you know, it’s not enough for law enforcement agencies to say this is our community policing officer. It really has to be a philosophy that goes through the department.
MENTEL: And it’s a philosophical change from moving away from a reactive stance to a proactive stance. And that’s one of the commonalities between community policing and the community justice movement. There are a lot of similarities, especially when you hear community justice people say that most of the courts out there are doing some form of community justice but not calling it by that name. We have the same sort of phenomenon happening with law enforcement agencies where they’ll be doing community policing and maybe they won’t even know that’s what it’s called but just through innovations that they kind of fall into it.
WOLF: So in what direction, what’s new in the agenda going forward here in 2009?
McQUAY: Oh, we were pleased to be a part of President Obama’s stimulus package. So the COPS Office has a billion dollars that will go for funding officers. It’s all hiring money. But we have to hire quite a few officers across the country with that money and we think that’s a great way to help revive the economy and create jobs, and at the same time increase public safety and reduce crime. So we were very excited about that.
WOLF: About how many people does a billion dollars pay for?
McQUAY: You know, we’re not sure. But when you take it over three years because it’s a three-year program and then you add on benefits, maybe around 5,000 and that’s a very rough estimate at this point.
The COPS office always has tribal money, methamphetamine money, technology money. So we’re involved in a lot of areas. And then our area of the office is currently looking over the things we would like to focus on this year. And we haven’t nailed those down yet, but certainly, violent crime would probably be among those. Youth violence may be among those. The effect of the worsening economy on crime may be among those,
MENTEL: Urban violence.
McQUAY: Urban violence. So a lot of key things we have to look at in 2009, 2010.
WOLF: Busy, absolutely. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for taking the time.
McQUAY: Thank you. It’s great to see this today and see how it works.
WOLF: It’s very nice to meet you. I’ve been speaking with Katherine McQuay, supervisory policy analyst with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and her colleague, Zoe Mentel, a policy analyst also with the COPS Office. This is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. To learn more about the Center for Court Innovation, you can visit www.courtinnovation.org. Thanks.