Law enforcement agencies are used to being pulled in different directions. It comes with the territory. Many residents are understandably vocal about the need to prevent crimes, others advocate strengthening crime investigation while still others are adamant about bolstering and expediting response efforts. The truth is, they’re all correct.Balancing those demands becomes even more difficult when budget woes intensify.
Back in 2008, Vancouver Police Chief Clifford Cook reluctantly disbanded the department’s two Neighborhood Response Teams because of budget constraints. “The Neighborhood Response Teams are extremely valuable,” Cook said at the time, but he had no choice.
It’s encouraging to know that the NRTs are back; shifting a few police officers from patrol allowed two NRT units to resume investigation of street-level crimes such as forgery, property crime, drug problems, graffiti and others.
Cook made the correct call to re-create the NRTs, as statistics show. Just since early January, the East and West precinct NRTs have posted 63 arrests, generated 89 new charges, cleared 46 arrest warrants and served eight search warrants, according to a Monday Columbian story by Paul Suarez. That box score is impressive, compared with the 85 arrests posted over six months back in 2008.
The realignment of resources comes with a cost, however. Department leaders say the change could result in slower response times to 911 calls. Sgt. Steve Dobbs, leader of the East Precinct NRT, explains the challenge: “We realistically need more patrol officers out handling 911 calls. You also have to have investigative units like ours or other units that do the follow-up with areas that are getting hit or people that are causing problems.”
Clearly, the work of the NRTs can reduce the number of 911 calls. The special teams work with neighborhood police officers, crime analysts and officers from other agencies to identify crime hot spots and trends.
We also like the fact that the Vancouver Police Department and NRT leaders are willing to think outside the law-enforcement box when it comes to tactics. Recently, NRT detectives worked with Neighbors On Watch volunteers, deploying a city truck fitted with license-plate scanners through areas known for numerous auto thefts. That particular day’s sweep didn’t turn up any evidence, but the effort reflects the kind of innovative and inclusive approaches that will maximize the benefits of both the NRTs and the NOW volunteers.
Suarez reported that on a recent afternoon, NRT officers served a search warrant, looking for drugs and possibly weapons, and found marijuana and methamphetamine. They also searched a car tied to a series of fake checks cashed around the country, found a stolen car and made seven arrests. Patrol units aren’t designed to do that kind of work, but the investigative work of the NRT can post the kinds of statistics that impress local residents.
Kudos to Cook, Dobbs, West Precinct NRT leader Cmdr. Mike Lester, and others in the Vancouver Police Department for making the most out of limited resources.