Proactive Policing Reduces Gun Violence in Newburgh

Posted in Proactive Policing | Last Updated March 18, 2019

 

Newburgh’s Community Progressive Response Team (CPRT).The team members are, from left, Lieutenant Joe Cortez, Officers Dan D’Elicio, Michael Wall and Dellauno Thomas

Making strides in reducing gun violence in Newburgh

After climbing a hilly incline on Renwick Street, four men round a corner onto Liberty Street. They’re making their way toward Broadway.

Across the street from where they’re walking, the old Liberty Street School stands barricaded from the sidewalk, encircled by metal perimeter fencing.

On their corner of Liberty, a renovated building features a new storefront. Its windowpanes are sparkling.

Patrolling in Newburgh’s East End Historic District

The redone storefront represents an outlier of the economic rebirth happening at the other end of Liberty. It is inching its way southward, down Liberty, yet another area in Newburgh’s huge East End Historic District.

As the men walk, they chat and joke, but their eyes constantly shift left, then right.

Their heads cock ever so slightly this way and that. They are heading back to police headquarters.

Lieutenant Joe Cortez (who, I learn, is in charge of special projects) stops to chat with me. I’ve approached the men who are on foot patrol for a quick picture for Instagram.

This is a good optic for Newburgh, and I want to get a snap.

Lieutenant Cortez explains that the men he’s walking with represent the Newburgh Police Department’s newest detail, the Community Progressive Response Team (CPRT).

He invites me to swing by headquarters the next day to learn more about the unit.

When I arrive, I’m admitted by security and climb the stairs to meet the lieutenant.

Gun Involved Violence Elimination gives birth to CPRT

Cortez sits in an office facing the river surrounded by paperwork, on his computer is a Bonsai Tree screensaver.

As it turns out, he is a master Japanese gardener who has built an elaborate and quite beautiful garden that he works on in his spare time.

Japanese gardens embrace a philosophy of balance and symmetry and feature koi fish and water lilies.

The serenity the screensaver suggests is at odds with what must be the daily stress that police work brings Lieutenant Cortez.

Now in his 18th year of service, Cortez explains that he is in charge of the new foot patrol team I encountered the day before: “This program, the Community Progressive Response Team, came about from an initiative started here called GIVE (Gun Involved Violence Elimination).”

Funded by the state, they went from an earlier state program, Impact, to become GIVE in 2014 and in 2015 began another program, GVI—Group Violence Intervention.

An end to zero-tolerance

According to Lieutenant Cortez, a shift in policing has been underway, nationwide, for some time.

Instead of approaching entire neighborhoods and communities with an us- vs-versus-them, zero-tolerance mentality that communities see as needlessly hostile, The City of Newburgh’s Police Department is taking a far more strategic approach.

“We used to call them gangs, but in the progressive direction that law enforcement is moving toward as a whole, now we call them groups.”

“It came about to address group violence, more specifically gun violence,” he said.

Dr. David Kennedy and Proactive Policing

In the past law enforcement has usually been focused on a zero-tolerance approach toward a whole community. But through the National Network of Safe Communities, out of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, focused deterrence, a theory based on Dr. David Kennedy’s research, urges a refocus on the smaller group within the larger community that is usually responsible for causing most of the chaos.

It’s the Pareto principle applied to law enforcement. Basically, this principle maintains that 80% of the effects come from 20% of causes.

Focused deterrence

Focused deterrence, Kennedy maintains, along with an intervention whereby a small community gathers with the targeted group to offer insights, warnings, and access to social services, such as job training, works.

It encourages potential future violent criminals to stop and think about the direction their lives are taking.

“He actually has a book that’s called Don’t Shoot. My guys have to read that,” Cortez said.

The National Network for Safe Communities, a project of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was launched in 2009 under the direction of David M. Kennedy and former John Jay College President Jeremy Travis. The National Network focuses on supporting cities implementing proven strategic interventions to reduce violence and improve public safety, minimize arrest and incarceration, strengthen communities, and improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities it serves. 

Essentially, Dr. Kennedy, after doing years of research, concluded that the chaos in drug-afflicted communities was best addressed not by over-vigilance toward the community as a whole but in the form of direct response to the bad actors, usually few in number, causing the chaos.

Furthermore, Kennedy maintained that an exclusively hard-nosed attitude toward the bad actors doesn’t work, either. You have to show some care and concern there, too, by offering alternatives and ways out of the lifestyle.

Kennedy rocketed to fame in the criminal justice world in the 1990s when he launched Operation Ceasefire, which embraced a problem-oriented policing approach focused on specific crime hot spots. According to Wikipedia, it focused on two elements of gun violence: illicit gun trafficking and gang violence.

His strategies were effective, reducing overall gun violence in several notoriously violent areas of Boston: Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.

He now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Newburgh Police Force and Operation Ceasefire

Lieutenant Cortez points out, “We are not the only city that has done this, it’s actually a national drive. Other jurisdictions may have a different name, but the basic premise is it deals with gun violence directly. It’s called Operation Ceasefire.

“Now what we do is our group concentrates on groups, and within those groups, we concentrate on the individuals who are the most violent.

“When dealing with those groups it IS zero tolerance. So, anything they do, we are on them; we want to stop that violence from happening, and not only are we on them, we are transparent about why we are there.

“For instance, today we had just spoken with a young man on the street, and we told him: ‘We know what you are doing out here. We know what group you are affiliated with, and we are letting you know we are going to be out here on a consistent basis.

“‘However, we would rather see you safe, alive, and out of prison.

“‘So, we are offering you services.’”

Proactive policing means keeping people safe alive and out of prison

He continued, “We have the ability to offer a reentry program called Exodus Transitional Community. Exodus is a service agency located at the corner of First and Grand Street; it’s an umbrella organization. They can direct people who request help for jobs, training, monetary help—it’s not just help for them, it’s help for people affiliated with them, family members, partners.

“What we are trying to do, as a whole, obviously we are trying to make the city safer, but we do that by taking the excuses away. If people tell us, ‘this is why I’m doing this,’ well, let’s take that away. Let’s see what we can do to correct this.”

Isabel Rojas manages Newburgh's Group Violence Initiative

Lieutenant Cortez speaks with Ms. Isabel Rojas who manages the District Attorney’s Group Violence Initiative program

Group violence intervention

Lieutenant Cortez explains that an intervention is set up by Ms. Isabel Rojas of the District Attorney’s office. The intervention will bring together parolees and those on probation with a variety of individuals, including the police,  representatives from social services, DA office representatives, and more. Family members will also join in the intervention, and felons will also address this audience: the parolees and those on probation the intervention is intended to help.

Former cop heads intervention unit

Rojas is a former New York City police officer and she runs the intervention. She is the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program’s project manager.

This means she is more or less the middleman between the social service agencies, the District Attorney’s office, the Police Department and the parolee or individual who is on probation who has been targeted for the intervention, which in Newburgh’s case is called a “Call In.”

Rojas’s role doesn’t stop there, though. She makes sure that the social services who have promised help are following through with that promise.

She closes the loop between all the parties involved, keeping them accountable. She and Cortez agree, her background as a former NYPD officer makes her able to work effectively with the department. She “gets” it and is able to be an effective communicator as a result.

Proactive Policing has been embraced by Newburgh'S Chief of Police

Doug Solomon is Newburgh’s Chief of Police and a man with a vision

A New Police Chief

Community Progressive Response Team: Proactive policing on a grassroots level

The Community Progressive Response Team was hatched over a year ago when the Newburgh’s Chief of Police, Doug Solomon, was hired, filling a long-vacant position in the city’s police department.

Solomon had led Monticello’s and Beacon’s police departments prior to coming to Newburgh.

One of the first things Chief Solomon hoped to accomplish was putting a foot patrol out on the street. This unit is the culmination of a vision that he has worked on since arriving.

A foot patrol unit that uses evidence-based policing

The officers in the unit were chosen because of their ability to connect with the community but also because they are comfortable and knowledgeable about evidence-based policing.

Evidence-based policing is a philosophy that holds that not only should officers have the right equipment, defensive tactics, and training, but they should also have access to high-quality information about what strategies and tactics demonstrably are working best out in the field.

They gain this by looking at field information and analyzing it for what is and isn’t working.

The new chief made this the standard for his department.

Officer Cortez explains, “This way, we’re not spinning our wheels. We don’t have a lag time of trying to learn something. This is what’s working, this is what we’re applying, and this is the outcome of it.

“We usually take an hour or so at each shift to go over new things that are going on in reference to groups, and it’s working: this is where we want to address a certain issue in our hot spot.”

The proof is in the results

Positive results of GVI (Group Violence Intervention)

  • In 2015, when the force implemented the program, they had 55 bullet-to-body shootings. That’s more than one per week on average.
  • In 2016, the number was down—a small change, but they brought it down to 48.
  • By 2017, the programs were fully implemented, and a decline was obvious, but the force had a reduction they did not see coming: 17 bullet-to-body shootings.
  • By 2018, the force faced the monumental task of maintaining the low number of bullet-to-body shootings, and they saw that number sink to a praiseworthy low: 8 bullet-to-body shootings.

Community Partnerships

A New Chief Builds Community Relationships

Concepts like the Community Progressive Response Team do not come to fruition without the overall vision of a chief like Solomon.

Chief Solomon has had years of experience, having been a police officer with specialized units as well as a police chief.

He has an understanding of both sides: the field work and the administrative and managerial process.

His officers appreciate his insights and credit him for his mentoring.

They see him as being successful in running interference and overcoming roadblocks so that the concepts the entire team comes up with get put into action.

Youth Police Initiative (YPI)

In 2013, the Newburgh Police, with the assistance of the Orange County Department of Social Services (DSS), implemented the Youth Police Initiative (YPI). The program brings juveniles and police officers together so they engage to facilitate understanding between both groups. The focus is on building an interpersonal connection between the youth and the officers. The mission is for both sides to understand they are human, vulnerable, and have had challenges in life, but they can meet on common ground to build trust and respect. The success of this program in Newburgh relies on reaching younger children early.

The other officers from the foot patrol have joined us now, and Officer Dan D’Elicio explains Chief Solomon’s vision for the community.

“We have a lot of community partnerships that we’re building,” he says.

“With YPI, children come in from the community. The class is held at the Armory, and during the first couple of days when they first come in, they don’t know they are meeting with police officers because the officers are in regular clothes.

“The officers talk to the children and emphasize the themes of choice and perception. They are asked to talk about their experiences in the community, experiences with the police, both good and bad.

Officer Dan D’Elicio at The Newburgh Armory Unity Center teaching a Youth Police Initiative Class

Office Dan D’Elicio and students at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center

“As a group, we share a meal, and the officers learn about the kids. On day three, we return—only now, we come in wearing our uniforms.

“They’re kind of blown away that we are police officers. Then we bring in other police officers and introduce them, too…it’s very good because our police department is very diverse and it’s good because we represent the community,” he explained.

By the end of the program, after the students have talked and the officers get them to understand the power of their choices and their experiences, another goal is being reached: breaking down barriers.

“We want them to understand, ‘hey, you know, I’m not Officer, I’m Dan. That’s Joe. That’s Mike.’ So, the next time they see us, they are more acclimated; we’re helping them bridge the gap between the police and the community.

“So far, we have graduated about 270 kids from the program.”

Cadet Week

Because YPI is doing well, the chief and his force decided to expand on that program to further build a relationship with the community. They came up with the idea of having a cadet week.

Cadet Week is a week-long program also based on YPI.

Students are invited to attend; they spend a week doing physical fitness, they attend court, they do a mock trial, visit Stewart Airport to see the hanger.

The students also take a ropes course, and the same instructors from the police academy that taught many of the officers on the force come in and meet with the students.

“We basically introduce them to a structured environment that incorporated physical fitness, team building, leadership, and introduced police officials from our department and across the county,” said Officer D’Elicio.

Officer Dellauno Thomas of the Community Progressive Response Team

Officer Dellauno Thomas of the Community Progressive Response Team helps teach at the Armory

A Cadet Academy

That Cadet Week program did so well that the administration decided, building on momentum would be a smart move and that an actual Cadet Academy program might work well.

The program started in September. To date, over 20 kids participated in it, and 65% of them are from the city of Newburgh.

They meet every Monday at the Armory from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. They take part in drill and ceremony, physical agility tests, and other exercises.

Creating a workforce pipeline

Essentially, the chief and his team are creating a workforce development initiative by prepping these youth for the police academy test.

“We also make them keep a detailed notebook. We give them tasks, we give them PowerPoints, a lot of curriculum.

“So they definitely are getting prepared to actually, you know, land the job.

“The goal is that if we educate them and give them the resources, they will find a landing spot in the law enforcement community.

“But because we’re teaching public speaking, promptness, physical agility, all these different things, it’s basically preparing them with life skills,” said Officer D’Elicio.

From 12 to Career: A Jobs Program

Underpinning Cadet Week and the Cadet Academy (a Summer Camp program that is a prerequisite to the Cadet Academy) is an overall goal of connecting with students who might possibly be interested in an eventual career in law enforcement within the City of Newburgh, that is if the students find such a career appealing.

The Armory has been a huge supporter of Newburgh's proactive policing approach. Pictured with Officers D'elicio and Thomas are Senator Bill Larking, Philanthropist, Bill Kaplan, and students.

The Armory has been a huge supporter of Newburgh’s proactive policing approach. Pictured with Officers D’elicio and Thomas are Senator Bill Larkin, Philanthropist, Bill Kaplan, and students.

Other ancillary programs like the Afterschool Criminal Justice program offered at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center also support this community outreach.

As students move through the programs, they are able to give consideration to a job in law enforcement—and not necessarily as a policeman; it could be in forensics and/or some other job within the criminal justice system.

As for the Summer Camp program or the cadet program, the police department has gotten a lot of donations and help, including funding from:

  • The Blacc Vanilla Community Foundation
  • Orange County legislators (Kevindaryán Luján, Representative to the Orange County Legislature, and Steve Neuhaus, County Executive; both worked together to secure funding for the Camp and Cadet Programs)
  • The Police Benevolent Association
  • Motorcyclepedia’s owner, Ted Doering, Newburgh Philanthropist
  • The Newburgh Armory Unity Center and Bill Kaplan, Newburgh Philanthropist

 

Next up: Foot patrols on Broadway

Chief Solomon: “When I first got here last year, I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time, 30 years, and as chief in three different police departments. Well, I’ve been able to grab some good ideas from different places.

“Newburgh, obviously, is a very diverse and sensitive community. We’ve got to think a little differently, outside the box.

“There are a lot of programs already in place. The Youth Police Initiative program, the Group Violence Initiative.

“So that’s the focus, these programs, this idea of a focus on deterrence rather than just kind of treating everybody the same, with a broad brush, that’s what our focus is,” Chief Solomon said.

Next up? The chief wants to get foot patrols and bike patrols on Broadway for visibility so people can see what the force is doing.

By having foot patrols and bike patrols on Broadway, people out in the community will see that the main corridor in the City of Newburgh, Broadway, is being addressed.

That it, too, is in focus.