Ending a burglary crime wave in Mount Pleasant
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) didn't need to see the statistics to
know that they had a serious burglary problem in Mount Pleasant. The current MPD
officer in charge of this area, Lieutenant Moses Vines, took action, forming
a "tactical unit" of officers to patrol the neighborhood specifically in search
of the people doing these burglaries. These were officers in plainclothes, able
to patrol and observe without being noticeable. It did not take them long to
spot men behaving suspiciously around and behind Mount Pleasant homes. In some cases
they were alerted to problematic men by observant residents.
In October and November, these officers made several arrests, some for burglary, others for possession of stolen goods. By December, the burglary rate in Mount Pleasant plummeted, dropping from its peak of 20 burglaries in September to just three in December.
This is an excellent example of two principles of police work. First, resources should be focused on specific problems, in specific locations. Spreading MPD resources out in random patrols may make the police more visible, but does not catch criminals. Second, only in plainclothes can officers have any serious chance of catching criminals in the act. That should be obvious, and MPD officers will certainly agree to that. But it has been extraordinarily difficult to get the MPD to support plainclothes work. The top officers prefer to have their people patrolling the streets in uniforms, where their visibility and presence will placate nervous residents.
People love to see officers in their neighborhoods, providing "protection" for the residents. But better protection is achieved by arresting criminals, getting them off the street and out of circulation. Even if this is only temporary, the increased likelihood of capture and arrest is a better deterrent than uniformed officers randomly wandering the streets. Furthermore, if criminals realize that anyone they see might be an MPD officer in plainclothes, that creates a magnified sense of a "police presence".
The monthly count of burglaries dropped sharply between September and December, 2006, thanks to effective police work. Unhappily, the count is increasing again, as of the spring of 2007.