City tactic under fire


First Posted: 1/9/2015

LIMA — The city Police Department’s pinpoint policing program has come under fire recently, sparked by several high-profile police killings of unarmed black men in other communities that garnered national attention and led to protests.

Members of Lima’s black community, led by the Lima Area Black Ministers Association, are calling for a change in police procedures.

Neither side sees eye to eye on the matter. Police officials see pinpoint policing as a useful crime-fighting tool while many blacks see it as profiling that targets members of the black community.

Lima Police Department officials praise pinpoint policing and said it has been one of the agency’s best tools in lowering the crime rate over the past six years. They also said it gets officers into the community to mingle with residents, which forms relationships that help solve crime.

But that viewpoint is not shared by many in the black community.

“The main issue, from our perspective in the ministerial association, is there is a targeting effort with certain areas or even appears to be profiling,” said the Rev. B. LaMont Monford Sr., one of the pastors in the association.

Lima Police Department Maj. Chip Protsman emphatically denies police officers profile or target blacks.

“Pinpoint policing is looking at numbers, not race. We are going to the most problem areas of the city and that’s where we want to put our resources where we can best utilize them,” Protsman said.

He said if any officer stopped a person based only on race the officer would be terminated.

“We do not condone and do not practice people being profiled by race,” Protsman said. “That is not what our officers are doing. What they are doing is paying attention to actions, not race.”

Monford, the senior pastor at Philippian Missionary Baptist Church in Lima and president of the association, said he finds such statements hard to believe. He would like to see data showing the breakdown of the race of people arrested during each operation.

Protsman did not have the data. He said the department’s computer can crunch numbers for the whole city for arrests by race but not a specific operation.

A big criticism Monford and others have is the way Lima officers conduct traffic stops under the pinpoint policing effort.

“It’s using minor traffic offenses as an excuse to pull over people when the real reason they want to pull over the individual is based on location of driving or even the type of car,” Monford said. “It’s predominantly in minority areas.”

Monford hears from people all the time, police officers stop them for a minor violation, such as not properly using a turn signal, as an excuse to pull the vehicle over.

“If you have a police officer following you, eventually you will do something minor, no matter how minor, to give them something to pull you over,” Monford said.

History of Pinpoint Policing

Lima Police Department began its pinpoint policing program in spring 2009. It was the brainchild of Protsman, then a lieutenant.

“The whole thinking behind it is people are asking us to get back to community-oriented policing. I was thinking of a way we could do that and utilize the new crime-mapping software,” he said.

Protsman came up with the idea of combining the community policing philosophy with new crime-mapping software that showed hot spots and gave a helpful overview on the types of crimes being committed.

In May 2009, after the first operation began in the neighborhood around North Cole Street and Allentown Road, Protsman and other officers proudly stood in the parking lot of the Valero gas station proclaiming success.

While Greg Garlock was chief at the time, he let Protsman deservedly take the spotlight. Nearby business owners gathered to thank officers. It was deemed a success.

In the months that followed, police officers began a second operation in the area of West Elm Street near South Metcalf Street. Four other operations would follow near St. Johns Avenue and Fourth Street, South Metcalf and West Elm streets again, Brice and Collett streets, and Second Street and St. Johns Avenue.

Some of the operations remain a work in progress to this day, Protsman said.

Methodology

Officers look for high-crime areas in the city to target. Sometimes those areas are examined based on numerous complaints, Protsman said.

Once an area has been analyzed and it’s determined there is a higher amount of crime or the complaints are valid, officers are sent door to door to talk to residents, which is part of the original community-oriented policing program developed 20 years ago.

Officers ask three questions: 1. What are the major problems in the area? 2. Who are the people contributing to the problems? 3. What can Lima Police do to work with you to solve the problems?

“We want to get as much information and talk to as many people as we can. Not only is it intelligence gathering for us but it gives officers the opportunity to talk to members of the community when they are not the victims of a crime or suspects in a crime,” Protsman said. “We want officers in the areas to talk and build relationships.”

Officers frequently run across residents who often would not speak up or call the Police Department on their own but have concerns and share those, he said.

Once the surveys are complete, officials compile and analyze the information and look at the top three problems.

“Loud music has always been the No. 1 concern and people walking in the streets,” Protsman said, adding drugs are usually the third problem identified.

From there, officers patrol the neighborhood, some in unmarked cars, even some on foot. Sometimes, residents invite police officers into their homes to watch a certain house that may be linked to drugs, Protsman said.

Officers target the crimes people want addressed. People driving down the road with music blaring, for example, are stopped and cited, sometimes arrested if police officers come across other issues that are a crime.

“When we started stopping people for loud music we were coming across drugs and people who were [illegally] in possession of guns,” Protsman said.

Success

When police officers found success in the first pinpoint policing operation, they feared the problem would eventually show up in another neighborhood with less of a police presence. Remarkably, and surprisingly to officers, it did not.

While police talk about successful operations, Monford struggles to see it that way.

“How do you say it’s been successful when the issue is before us of fairness and equitable,” he said.

But Protsman, Chief Kevin Martin and other police leaders said the proof is in crime numbers.

Crime has been on the decline in Lima, as it has across the country. Crime in Lima fell by 28 percent between 2008 and 2013. Martin has repeatedly given credit to pinpoint policing as one of the reasons for the reduction.

Protsman said pinpoint policing develops relationships in the community when officers go door to door and it targets areas of high crime. While success can be measured in numbers, Protsman said there is a more important way, a better quality of life for residents.

“That’s what we’re all striving for is a better quality of life for all people in the city,” Protsman said.

The long haul

Monford said the ministerial association is not dropping the issue and will continue to push for change in the pinpoint policing program as well as other programs he believes can help the city, as a whole. They are looking at their effort as a marathon, not a sprint and members are determined to make change. They plan to schedule a meeting with police and city officials to talk about issues, he said.

Shortly after protests began across the country, the association held a rally in Lima’s Town Square to voice concerns with hundreds gathered to listen.

Monford wants to make it clear he is not anti-police or trying to stop police officials from making the city a safer place.

“We’re not against pinpoint policing that is inclusive. We want what happens to be fair and equitable to everyone. We’re not trying to make this an issue to cover for criminal activity,” Monford said.

Monford said the last thing anyone wants is crime in their neighborhood.

“We’re not here to defend criminals or criminal activity. What we are saying is when the system is being abused, in the sense of targeting a certain demographic of the community, somewhere there needs to be a line that says we can’t continue to cross the line,” he said. “We know law enforcement must do its job but the methodology must change.”

COP Neighborhood Offices Return

Monford wants to see police reopen neighborhood offices staffed by community officers just as they did 20 years ago. The agency assigned an officer to a specific neighborhood to work with residents. Monford said it was invaluable and gave residents in neighborhoods across the city an officer they could get to know and more importantly trust. That helped solve crime and fix problems, he said.

“You have someone you know and there’s mutual respect,” Monford said.

Protsman said police officials were not opposed to having community officers return to neighborhood offices and are asking City Council to fund three officers and a sergeant to oversee the program.

In the mid-1990s, the federal government provided money for the original program but pulled it several years later leaving it up to local governments to find a way to pay the bill. With budget restraints, Lima Police Department had to reluctantly close its community offices and move the officers back into police cruisers on patrol.

Even if the council doesn’t approve funding, Monford said it’s a matter of allocating resources. He said police officials need to be more open-minded, listen to the community and find a way.

“We cannot afford not to do it.” Monford said. “Right now we don’t know the officers and the officers don’t know the neighborhoods.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich also announced Wednesday he is forming a task force to improve police relations with the communities agencies serve in Ohio. Whether that means a return of community officer, and more importantly, funding, remains to be seen.

One thing Protsman and Monford agree on, without question, is looking at ways to make Lima a better place to live. How they get there remains the story to be written.

Monford said eight of the 13 pastors in the association were born and raised in Lima, and have stayed here with the plan to work to make Lima a better place. He also wants to see the Lima Police Department hire more people who were raised in Lima who grew up with people from various backgrounds, including race.

Officers who grow up in small communities away from people of other races often are unfamiliar with urban neighborhoods and display aggressive enforcement, Monford said.

“We all want to see a community that is the best it can be. We have a vested interest. It’s what we call home,” Monford said.

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