How a Public-Private Partnership Can Change Community Policing

How can the quality of the law enforcement services provided not be impacted during these hard economic times? For the Albuquerque (NM) Police Department, the answer is that we had to change the way we police. At the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) we have accomplished this by engaging our community through a public-private partnership.

The recent economic downturn has had a significant impact on law enforcement nationwide. According to a publication from the Police Executive Research Forum entitled “Is the Economic Downturn Fundamentally Changing How We Police?” the average budget cut experienced by many police agencies is approximately 7 percent. In spite of cuts in pay, furloughs, layoffs, and the dissolution of specialized units, police agencies are still expected to provide the same level of quality public safety services as they did during times of economic vitality.

How can the quality of the law enforcement services provided not be impacted during these hard economic times? For the Albuquerque (NM) Police Department, the answer is that we had to change the way we police. At the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) we have accomplished this by engaging our community through a public-private partnership.

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CrimeUnit

Members of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit include (front row from left) Det. Al Velarde, Sergeant Mizel Garcia, Det. Lawrence Saavedra, (back row from left) Detectives Scott McMurrough, Vicente Alvarado, Jerrod Pelot, and Dakota Moore.

An Eye-Opening Beginning

When we started down this road in 2006, we were not facing the current economic crisis. We began this journey with the purpose of better serving our community based on the needs defined by our citizenry. We had assembled a Community Policing Steering Committee to provide direction on how we should work with our citizens to better engage in a public-private partnership. While the APD had focused on neighborhood policing, the committee asked the question, “What about the business community?” Thus, it was our citizens who prompted us to hold a “business summit” in May 2006 where we developed our first public-private partnership that is now known as the Albuquerque Retail Assets Protection Association (ARAPA).

In conjunction with some of the loss prevention professionals employed by retailers such as Target, Walgreens, and Smiths, we held our initial ARAPA meeting to exchange information about crime impacting the retail sector. Our law enforcement personnel gathered toward the back of the meeting room with arms crossed, thinking they were at a meeting that would not provide anything new or different. Moments after the meeting started, this all changed. Retailers had brought photos and videos of offenders committing “their” crimes to illustrate their stories of criminal victimization.

The very first case discussed was presented by Walgreens and involved an offender who was sweeping product from shelves at an area store, walking out with hundreds of dollars in merchandise. After seeing the photo of the suspect, one of the officers in the back of the room stood up and stated that he had investigated the same guy for an auto burglary the previous week. At this point arms in the back of the room became uncrossed, and the basis of the ARAPA partnership began.

Information Sharing

After establishing the foundation for this public-private partnership, the next hurdle we faced involved improving communication and information sharing between law enforcement and retailers. It was after ARAPA received recognition as a “Best Practices in Community Policing” by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) that Target Corporation provided the initial funding for a web developer to work with us to create the web-based, real-time crime alert system we now call CONNECT, which stands for Community-Oriented Notification Network Enforcement Communication Technology.

The philosophy behind CONNECT establishes that in order to improve public safety, we have to employ proactive methods for our private-sector partners to be engaged in addressing community safety needs. In a traditional police response to crime, victims call police when a crime occurs and an officer is dispatched to take a police report. The report is written, filed, and approved via police procedure and, at some point in the coming week or more, the case is assigned to a detective for follow-up.

Prior to ARAPA and CONNECT, our detectives and retail personnel would both be investigating the same offender for different crimes and not be working together, thus they would not be linking the offender’s criminal activity. With the public-private partnership model, loss prevention personnel are accepted as crime fighting partners. Through CONNECT’s real-time information-sharing technology, we level the communication platform by recognizing that police can no longer be a community’s sole response to dealing with crime and public safety issues. By allowing our community to be equal partners in APD’s crime-fighting strategy, we expand the resources available to us to fight crime, which becomes a force multiplier in addressing Albuquerque’s public safety needs.

It is noteworthy that this public-private partnership model has been replicated in over fifteen additional jurisdictions across the United States to include:

  • LAAORCA—Los Angeles Area Organized Retail Crime Association,
  • CCROC—Cook County Regional Organized Crime Taskforce,
  • WSORCA—Washington State Organized Retail Crime Alliance, and
  • HIORCA—Hawaii Organized Retail Crime Association.

Other Business-Sector Partnerships

Because the purpose of ARAPA and CONNECT is built on the foundation of law enforcement and private-sector partnerships, the APD began to consider other business sectors where crime prevention could be enhanced by a shared vision for community public safety. During presentations at business-sector networking meetings, APD representatives would speak about new initiatives the department was implementing with the business community, including the ARAPA partnership and the CONNECT website.

Business leaders outside of retail who heard these presentations began asking APD to consider bringing in their business sector into a similar sector-based partnership. Based on these requests, the APD began working to establish public-private partnerships with the financial, hospitality, and construction industries, which have turned into the FISOA (Financial Institutions Security Officers Association), CICA (Construction Industry Crime Alliance), and Hospitality partnerships.

Each of these partnerships utilize CONNECT via a secure industry-sector communication system, with law enforcement being able to see the overlap of incidents between each industry. By using this system, it quickly became apparent that there was an overlap of criminal activity between each public-private partnership, with the same offender linked to incidents in each.

Identifying Serial Criminals

Identifying property-crime offenders involved in serial criminal activity has been a focus of the Albuquerque Police Department since 2005. Property crime constitutes 85 to 90 percent of the Part 1 Offenses reported for most communities. However, property crime is often viewed as a victimless crime, making it easier for offenders to re-victimize.

The often-cited 80-20 rule for offenders says that 20 percent of offenders commit 80 percent of the crime. By concentrating on property crime and those offenders involved with these crimes, law enforcement is able to identify criminals committing multiple offenses. In receiving the incidents from each of our private-sector partnerships, it quickly became apparent that those offenders victimizing each of our partnerships were the same as those who were stealing cars, breaking into houses, dealing drugs, and committing other crimes impacting Albuquerque’s community.

One case that speaks to serial criminal activity is illustrated by an offender by the name of Brian, who came to the APD’s attention as an unidentified offender linked to separate felony-level shoplifting incidents from Home Depot, Target, Walmart, and Lowe’s. During the same period of time, APD received information and a photo from a hotel partner of an offender who had taken a guest’s laptop from a hotel room while it was being cleaned by housekeeping. Though the follow-up on these incidents, it was determined that the same offender was involved in criminal activity in both the retail and hospitality sectors.

Without the hospitality-sector partnership, it is unlikely that the offender activity would have been linked to the offenses committed against retailers. However, with the multiple sector partnerships, we could now connect the offender to crimes in more than one business sector. It is also important to note that Brian’s criminal history includes arrests for offenses such as possession of drugs (methamphetamines), drug trafficking, receiving/transferring a stolen vehicle, fraud, commercial burglary, and assault on a police officer.

PoliceOnLocationOrganized Crime Unit

We could see that Albuquerque’s overall Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part 1 crimes were down. Through a number of departmental efforts, we have seen a positive impact on crime in Albuquerque.
Our public-private partnerships are one of the programs that have influenced the decline of crime in Albuquerque. Additionally, the success of our partnership initiatives is not only linked to crime statistics, but also to participation, awareness, and satisfaction with police services. Prior to the establishment of our partnerships, one of the complaints from our private-sector partners was that they did not know if anything had resulted from their filing a police report.

By the summer of 2011, we were able to identify and track increased satisfaction with APD services brought by our partnerships, but still were looking at ways to further improve our commitment to their work. APD already has investigative teams dedicated to follow-up on criminal activity via “traditional” police reporting means and for dispatched calls for service. One “service gap” discussed with our private-sector partners was that existing APD units were too compartmentalized and busy with other assigned tasks to focus on the investigations forwarded by them. We began to consider how APD could improve the coordination and investigation of crimes brought to our attention via our public-private partnerships. The follow-up and linking of offenses illustrated in the case discussed above of Brian was not the type of case follow-up that the APD was able to provide to support the partnerships on an on-going basis.

In September 2011 the APD initiated a new investigative unit as a pilot project and created our Economic Crimes Section to include a specialized Organized Crime Unit (OCU) made up of one sergeant and between four and six detectives who work in an undercover capacity. The focus of detectives assigned to this squad is to follow-up and investigate offenses brought to our attention via our private-sector partners.

In just the first four months after establishing this pilot project, OCU detectives were able to focus on the criminal activity impacting our public-private partnerships. Through the ensuing investigations, OCU detectives made over fifty arrests for criminal activity resulting from the communication and follow-up enabled by these partnerships. In turn, these arrests resulted in sixty-seven cases that have been forwarded to our district attorney’s office for felony prosecution.

Following are two examples of cases that were developed via investigations by the OCU.

Rodney’s Return Fraud Ring

Home Depot loss prevention personnel were monitoring receipt fraud associated with an offender who would select various types of high-dollar merchandise that was small enough to be pushed under the large gates in the back of the outdoor garden area. This offender has also been linked to other persons who would return the items and in many cases receive a Home Depot gift card with the amount of the store credit.

To use these cards, the offenders would also search store parking lots for discarded receipts with items purchased with cash, check, or debit card, knowing that purchases on a credit card could be tracked. They would then use the store credit to purchase items on the receipt, and go to another store to return the items for cash. Via this elaborate theft scheme, it is estimated that the offense ring was stealing thousands of dollars each week.

The frustration for Home Depot’s loss prevention personnel was they could identify the illegal activity, but were having a hard time getting law enforcement to do the follow-up investigation because the offenders were hitting the six Home Depot stores in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, two of which were outside APD’s jurisdictional boundaries. It is also important to note that the offenders would often steal items below the $500 felony-theft limit. Thus, this illegal activity was “flying below the radar” for law enforcement to address because it was “just a misdemeanor shoplifting” offense. This activity continued with little follow-up until OCU was developed.

With the creation of OCU, we now had law enforcement personnel dedicated to addressing the serial offenders who came to our attention via our private-sector partnerships. Within the first few weeks of OCU’s deployment, we were able to follow-up on these Home Depot thefts and build a case against an offender named Rodney. OCU found that the other persons linked to this return-fraud scheme were, in fact, homeless individuals that Rodney would pick up at shelters and offer a cut of the money from the thefts. By using different persons when he made the purchases and returns, Rodney was minimizing the ability to link him to his theft scheme.

In the six months prior to his arrest, Rodney’s ring was responsible for approximately $11,000 in theft from Home Depot and $14,000 from Lowe’s. Reflecting back, it is probable that this ring was responsible for over $200,000 in theft. Upon his arrest, Rodney was charged with the following felony crimes—criminal solicitation (22 counts), larceny over $500, and fraud over $2500. This case awaits adjudication.

Beyond this arrest, Rodney’s criminal history dates back to 1996, with over forty arrests, including armed robbery, aggravated battery on a household member, false imprisonment, aggravated fleeing from law enforcement, possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), and child abuse. Rodney admitted to using the money from these thefts to buy drugs.

Justice for Johnny and Justin

ARAPA partners were notified of an incident at a local freight company where a duo by the names of Johnny and Justin were identified for theft. Both offenders could also be linked to several shoplifting offenses, including attempting to steal 9mm ammunition from a Sportsman Warehouse. Since this time, Johnny and Justin have been tied to offenses at JC Penney, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, Kmart, and Gap.

Johnny’s criminal history includes charges for armed robbery, auto burglary, unlawfully carrying of a weapon, larceny, drug trafficking, drug possession, battery, and numerous arrests for misdemeanor and felony shoplifting. Justin’s criminal history includes more than one charge for auto theft, criminal damage to property, possession of burglary tools, larceny, and a number of charges for felony and misdemeanor shoplifting.

OCU arrested Johnny and Justin for shoplifting at a Kmart store. When this boosting team was approached by loss prevention personnel, they stated to the store associates that they had a gun and would kill them. Upon apprehension, a firearm was not found on either offender.

During the follow-up interview, OCU detectives asked the offenders why they committed the crimes and were told that they do the crime to get money to buy drugs. One of the offenders also provided some insight into the word on the street regarding OCU and the investigations this unit is conducting. He said, “Honestly I’m scared to even go out and do this anymore. I’m scared to even steal anything because there is this new unit out there that is just for this stuff. They are finding and taking everybody to jail.”

Beyond the Arrest

Following an arrest, a case has to proceed through the criminal justice system, and, thus, it is imperative for involvement from our area prosecutors. An additional positive effect that has resulted from our public-private partnership includes increased cooperation and communication between law enforcement, private-sector partners, and prosecutors in the Second Judicial District Attorney’s (DA) Office. This cooperation has increased successful case closure via the court system. The below data reflects the number of felony prosecutions for cases that have been closed by the DA’s office resulting from ARAPA-based cases.

ARAPA_Cases_Table

The support from our partnerships continues through to the sentencing of offenders. With APD and community members in the courtroom, we have seen significant sentences for these offenders and have even had defense attorneys ask us about the case for which we were in the courtroom, fearing that should we be in court for their client that “their client could be in trouble.” The reason for their worry is the length of sentences given to offenders, with the most significant sentence for a property-crime offender being 70 years, with 50 years suspended, but 20 years in the department of corrections.

APD’s public-private partnerships are built on a foundation of community involvement that begins at the point that a crime comes to our attention, through to sentencing of the offender. The fortitude for community public safety that is built through these partnerships is well summarized by ARAPA’s co-chair representing the retail sector, Craig Davis, senior investigator for Target:

“At the heart of the ARAPA program is trust and partnership. It goes beyond communicating through a website or once a month at a meeting. It’s a business relationship between the detectives and the retail ORC investigators, meeting almost daily in one way or another to exchange ideas, share intelligence, and collaborate on the next steps needed to move a case along. These strong partnerships lead to quick case closures, a better understanding of the scope of activity committed by the offenders, and ultimately a safer community, as a result of the prosecution of hundreds of felony offenses.”

Expanding Crime-Fighting Resources

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the country’s economic crisis has had a significant impact on both government and business. During this time of budget crisis, how do communities afford to implement initiatives like ARAPA that require additional resources? Our response is, “How can you afford not to engage your community?”

With the financial cutbacks in police budgets, law enforcement think tanks assert that it will be decades before we restore our staffing levels…if at all. For APD our private-sector business partners are equal partners in how we fight crime. Whether retail, construction, hospitality, or banking, all of the professionals aligned with these businesses have a vested interest in a safer community. We just have to open the door and let them in. Our community is our eyes and ears for what is happening on our streets, in our parking lots, and at our businesses. Law enforcement will never have enough officers to see and hear what you can help us identify.

The partnerships formed by APD have grown as a template for other agencies. “APD has demonstrated itself as a national leader in the fight against retail crimes, and city government officials throughout the country have been watching,” says Joe LaRocca, senior assets protections advisor for the National Retail Federation. “Several major metropolitan areas have taken elements of APD’s strategy. APD has built a successful track record of working with the private sector and area law enforcement agencies to proactively remove threats from their community.”

Criminals are opportunists. Whether they steal from a store, break into a car, burglarize a house, or steal copper from a construction site, we can best detect their crime through collaboration. Public-private partnerships provide for a more effective means to solidify public safety. As law enforcement, the challenge is to change the way we engage our community, and to be willing to let you join our crime fighting strategies. For those in the security and loss prevention profession, your challenge is to be leaders in the process and approach law enforcement in your community. We can make our cities and towns safer if we are committed to working together. Our only failure is if we don’t even try.

This article was first published in 2012 and updated in March 2016.

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