In the words of Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers, police officers are accustomed to taking reports, arresting criminals and repeating the whole process over and over again.
“I do not like doing the same thing when it does not reduce crime,” Rogers added.
Recidivism rates motivated Rogers to revamp the way the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Dept. handles crime and crime prevention. According to the 2012 Annual Report, between Jan. 2009 and August 2011 rates for re-entry to crime was about 49 percent. The correctional facility has since undergone a paradigm shift from “warehousing” inmates to working to affect inmates’ hearts and minds to reduce repeat offenses.
“Whenever you're talking about crime reduction it's one of those things you can't chew the elephant all at once so you have to take bites out of it at a time,” said Rogers.
The Elkhart County Jail started with offering courses such as “Thinking for a Change,” “Substance Abuse,” “Life after incarceration,” “Anger Management” and a GED program. After the programs were implemented, return to crime dropped 24 percent. Gang intelligence programs, community mediation and focused patrols also aid in a larger-scale crime prevention effort.
The next step in the department’s quest to cut back on crime is just getting started. Sheriff Rogers and Cpt. James Bradberry are working with officers to establish close ties with each of the 16 townships in Elkhart County.
At a press conference Monday, Sheriff Rogers announced his plans to expand efforts for crime reduction.
“It is my desire to empower citizens by giving them access and providing them information to an officer assigned to their township.” Police first started encouraging civilian crime spotting with online crime reports on the sheriff’s website and via social media.
Initial meetings between officers and township residents begin Monday night, and will continue through July 12th. Officers from the Elkhart County detective bureau and patrol divisions will be divided into separate teams to tackle issues specific to each township.
For those who fear this civilian empowerment may take away from pre-existing neighborhood watches, Rogers says that will not be the case.
“If neighborhoods have these in place they can still meet and act autonomously,” said Rogers, “this is a broad approach to include those not in a particular neighborhood.” Many residents live along stretches of county roads and have no such community associations to spot and report crime—that’s where the township connections come in.
“This is not secret police stuff,” said Rogers. Instead, the idea is to get more people looking for crime and suspicious activity and then turning over information to police. Rogers says the Sheriff’s Department exists to protect the people but doesn’t have the manpower to police every street corner.
In 2012 the department received 56,598 calls. While that number may seem large, officers said they’d rather look into false alarms and build up that sense of responsiveness than see crime repeat.
Plans for community policing have been in the works now for several years. The goal is to decrease the amount of work that needs to be done on the investigative end by empowering the public through community policing.
By assigning an officer or officers to a particular township, Rogers said it develops name and face recognition. He hopes these closer relationships between officers and the public will build a two-way street of communication.
Ptl. Derek Lundgren is one of the officers assigned to manage a township connection.
He said it is going to be a learning experience, “it’s really up in the air the route this is going to go it’s up to the community. Then it’s going to be up to us what information we receive from the community and the turnout from these meetings.”
Lundgren said it will provide a route for non-emergency calls or things that wouldn’t normally be reported to 911.
“It’s an avenue for those crimes that people wouldn’t normally report it, it’s an easy way to just send an e-mail saying, ‘hey, this is what’s happening, this is what’s been going on, these are our concerns,” Lundgren added.