Strengthening Pomona’s Economic Development Prospects:

The article first appeared on November 4, 2009 in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin’s point of view section.

Bringing Bratton-Style Community Policing to Pomona

by Arturo Jimenez, Kathryn Kirui and Alfonso Villanueva

The recent arrest of the El Monte city manager in a prostitution sting on Holt Boulevard and the still-unsolved November 19, 2006 murder of 4 year old Ethan Esparza on the sidewalk outside his home are two sadly clear examples of what ails Pomona. Pomona has long seemed to be a magnet attracting people who seek out prostitution and illegal drugs. That climate, in turn, sustains an active culture of violence and gangs. Not a pretty picture for Pomona’s business community. Not a pretty picture for most Pomonans, who want only to live in peace and safety, to work, to play, to raise their families.

Economic revitalization is a key to Pomona’s civic health. But it won’t happen unless Pomona works to create a safer, sustainable community environment. Land use economist Mike Reynolds of the Concord Group recently told a joint city council/ planning commission meeting that Pomona’s murder rate must make a big drop before the city can expect to sustain any real economic development.

What can be done to reduce Pomona’s crime rate and help create a positive economic, social and cultural future for the city? Pomona would do well to look to Los Angeles, where the number of violent crimes has dropped from more than 70,000 in 1995 to just 26, 553 in 2008 (see L.A. Times editorial, “The New Chief”, October 19, 2009), where neighborhoods once considered marginal or dangerous now invite pedestrians and nurture a multitude of thriving businesses.

L.A.’s crime-fighting success is credited to community policing techniques introduced by Police Chief William Bratton. Before coming west, Bratton served as chief of police in New York City where his introduction of community policing methods brought a similar dramatic reduction in that city’s crime rate. Effective community policing, as done by the L.A.P.D. under Bratton, is a “smart policing” approach that makes sophisticated use of statistics and mapping to identify trends, plan strategy and monitor officers. And at its heart is the idea that an orderly community is a safer one; police learn to be proactive in helping keep communities orderly and safe, not simply reactive in responding to crimes that have occurred.

Police learn to know well the neighborhoods they serve and to become known and trusted by residents who want those neighborhoods safe and sustainable. Community policing recognizes that a key variable in reducing crime is community members’ willingness to come forward to actively cooperate with law enforcement in crime reduction.

In some Pomona neighborhoods, residents’ apprehension and uncertainty regarding interaction with the police is common. So some people who desperately wish their neighborhoods were safer may be reluctant to contact police to discuss their concerns and relay valuable information. Community policing methods are designed to change that equation, working to create a sense of trust between police and the public that pays big dividends in public safety.

A traditional sociological perspective which blames racism and poverty, in large part, for crime is flawed by its failure to acknowledge the importance and empowerment of each individual taking true responsibility for his or her actions. Whole communities, too, are empowered to the extent that they free themselves from this common “victim” mindset and learn that they can take control of their destinies by working for community improvement. Genuine community policing helps communities to gain that crucial sense of direction and empowerment, enabling them to partner with the police and other civic entities to improve community life for all.

It is well noted that community disorganization is identified in Pomona’s Youth and Family Master Plan as an important factor contributing to the city’s crime rate and gang violence; another loud and clear call for the need to improve the community’s sense of direction and empowerment.

The police can do their share of work building strong relational bridges to the community; the community must genuinely be willing to do its share of bridge-building, too. Community policing methods based on the Bratton model would best serve to help Pomona build those bridges it needs to cross to reach a safe, strong, sustainable and economically vibrant future.

Arturo Jimenez is Chair of the Pomona Planning Commission.

Kathryn Kirui is a member of Pax Christi of the Pomona Valley, a Catholic social justice organization.

Alfonso Villanueva is Chair of the Inland Valley Council of Peacemakers, a think tank of retired peace officers.

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