Police in Springfield, Massachusetts have adopted Iraq-style “counterinsurgency” tactics and are applying them to gang busting with amazing results, according to Sunday’s episode of “60 Minutes.”
Before you get freaked out, don’t worry: Springfield police are not walling off whole blocks, setting up militarized checkpoints and jumping out of helicopters with bazookas. What they are doing is something that’s been sorely missing from American policing in recent decades: community building.
Retired Marine Corps officer R. Scott Moore summarized counterinsurgency strategy as the combination of “actions, structures and beliefs to resolve root causes” of a conflict. As such, U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq focused on keeping militants at bay while creating stable space for a community to come together and begin resolving issues that create violence.
To officer Mike Katone, freshly home from a war zone and working for the Springfield police force, that strategy made more and more sense the longer he looked at his city’s gang problems.
“No one was calling the Springfield police and no one was calling the state police,” he told “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl. “Insurgents and gang members both want to operate in a failed area — a failed community or a failed state. They know they can live off the passive support of the community, where the local community is not going to call or engage the local police.”
He pitched the idea of creating a team of officers specifically tasked with building relationships in the community, going door-to-door to shake hands and make friends. Springfield Deputy Police Chief John Barbieri told “60 Minutes” that he was initially skeptical, but embraced the idea when he realized “it was exactly the type of program I need for this type of neighborhood.”
It took some shoe leather, but the officers embedded themselves in the hearts and minds of their community, and eventually began holding neighborhood meetings that brought many community leaders together, some for the first time. That led to the creation of a “walking school bus,” where officers escort neighborhood kids to school in areas where that sort of activity used to be considered dangerous, creating a strong visual of police taking back the streets from gangs.
Thanks to these tactics, Stahl noted that violent crime in the worst parts of Springfield fell 25 percent in 2012, while drug arrests dropped roughly 50 percent.
“If the government is not going to do it, and individuals are not going to do it, why can’t police partner up with the community and say, ‘Hey, here’s a plan. This is what we want to do to help’?” Katone said. “Because the status quo of traditional policing, it just ain’t gonna work.”
This video is from “60 Minutes,” aired Sunday, May 5, 2013.