One-on-One With…Commissioner Frank G. Straub, Ph.D.
Recently, Commissioner Frank Straub testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. His remarks were focused on reducing violent crime and building trust—the core of effective community policing. He talked about this and more with Dispatch Associate Editor Amy Schapiro.
CP Dispatch: What are the most important factors that have facilitated the adoption of community policing in your agency?
Commissioner Straub: I have learned over time that it was more important to identify and prevent problems then to respond to them after the fact. Being involved with the community and having strong relations with them goes a long way toward resolving issues. Although trust existed prior to my appointment 6 years ago, the department had started to become isolated from the community. During my hiring process, how to build community trust was a topic of much discussion. The Mayor wanted more focus on police interaction with the community, and we've done that. As a result, we can do more targeted enforcement because we always explain our efforts to the community ahead of time. We let them know that the police department is coming and why because we do not want to be seen as an occupying force during enforcement efforts. We solicit community feedback about our actions and debrief afterwards. Not long ago, when an incident generated a large police presence, our community policing division went door-to-door to explain what happened, what we did, and why.
CP Dispatch: Do you view your officers as specialists or as generalists?
Commissioner Straub: Both. Every officer is a community policing officer. Every officer goes through our youth-police officer training program and all of our officers attend a day-long session at the New York Tolerance Center in Manhattan to learn more about diversity. Currently, 55 of our 215 officers are certified in crisis intervention (including all officers in the Community Policing Division). Another 20 officers will be certified this year, and my goal is to have all officers certified.
CP Dispatch: I know that one of the areas in which you have expertise is performance-based management. How have you applied this approach to advance community policing in your department?
Commissioner Straub: In 2007, a colleague and I published a book, Performance-Based Management for Police Organizations. The book explores the evolution of CompStat and how it has been adopted and implemented in other departments.
One of the things I did was implement CompStat in White Plains to measure the success or failure of police tactics against crime patterns. Over time we realized that focusing on crime statistics alone was not enough. Although crime dropped, we weren’t paying enough attention to victims and the underlying causes of crime. In 2003, five domestic homicides—three spouse/partners and two elder abuse—caused us to pause and think about how we were policing the city. We created a community advocacy unit to look at domestic violence, elder abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. We used CompStat to track incidents and recidivism rates. We identified consistent offenders and victims and built intervention strategies aimed toward them. We also partnered with Pace University to provide legal services to indigent women and enhanced our partnerships with shelters, mental health organizations, and other service providers.
CP Dispatch:When you recently testified before Congress you talked about successful community policing strategies implemented by the City of White Plains Department of Public Safety. What were some of those strategies?Commissioner Straub: In 2006, two gang-related juvenile homicides, an increase in shots fired, and other acts of youth violence led to a number of new strategies. The most effective have been Step-Up and the Youth-Police Initiative Training program (YPI) developed in partnership with the City of White Plains Youth Bureau. Step-Up provides intensive case management and life skills training. The Youth-Police training brings together at-risk youth and police officers to discuss violence, gang activity, race, values, and youth-police interactions, including de-escalation techniques. In the process, it builds trust and respect.
We also created and administer the only prisoner reentry program in Westchester County. The program has been highly successful, since its inception, 2 years ago, only 7 out of 80-plus persons contacted have been rearrested.
A fatal stabbing of a woman by a homeless man, released from prison after 23 years, raised awareness about homelessness and mental issues. A few months after that homicide, the county closed a large shelter, challenging the police to find a solution. We started tracking individuals who had mental health problems and chronic offenders by focusing on quality-of-life issues. We partnered with the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health to locate people with a history of mental illness and referred them to services. We tracked them through CompStat to provide follow-up and to determine if they were using or refusing services.
Whether you are doing enforcement work or community policing, you need good data. We try to infuse community policing strategies into problem areas and to change behavior so that potential problems don’t become real problems. The district attorney’s office, mental health agencies, and city youth bureau attend the weekly CompStat meetings. We use CompStat as a vehicle for change along with programs like YPI, which has helped engage the community.
During the past 6 years, serious crime has declined by 40 percent to the lowest level in 42 years. Community policing has played a huge role in striking a good balance between enforcement and crime prevention. As crime goes down, it allows us to do more community policing, identify hot spots, as well as identify and intervene before problems arise.
------------In 2002, Frank G. Straub, Ph.D., was appointed Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of White Plains, New York. He oversees a staff of 450 uniformed and civilian personnel assigned to the Police and Fire Bureaus. Beforehand, Straub was the Deputy Commissioner of Training for the New York City Police Department and later Assistant Commissioner of Internal Training, Counterterrorism Bureau. Straub also has federal law enforcement experience, serving as a special agent with the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security; special agent in the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. He also served as the Executive Deputy Inspector General for New York State. Commissioner Straub holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice from the City University of New York, a master’s degree in forensic psychology, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology.