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Police consider security options
Shooting spurs access moves
DETROIT | When a gunman went on a rampage inside a Detroit police station this week, he entered an open lobby with no metal detector, no bulletproof glass and just a tall desk separating him from the officers.
The place had been designed as part of a “community policing” strategy to look friendly and less bunkerlike.
Now, in the wake of the shootout Sunday that left four cops wounded and the gunman dead, some big-city police departments and police unions around the country are taking another look at their security measures and grappling with how to serve the public while also protecting officers’ lives.
“Our commitment to community policing, engaging the community, will not change one iota,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said Monday. “But by the same token, the society we live in dictates that we have to take a different level and a different look at how we secure our facilities.”
After the riots and civil unrest of the 1960s and ‘70s, many big-city police departments began adopting community policing, which is aimed, in part, at fighting crime by convincing the public that the police are not the enemy. Some departments made officers start walking a beat again so that they could get to know the neighborhoods they protected. Cities tried to make police stations look less like fortresses.
In six of the seven local police stations in Milwaukee, residents can walk right up to officers behind counters, though Michael V. Crivello, president of the police union, said he hopes the department reconsiders in light of the rampage in Detroit.
In New York City, which has the nation’s largest police department with more than 34,000 uniformed officers, each precinct has officers assigned as security, and their job is to greet visitors. Department spokesman Paul Browne said people “have to be able to feel welcome to make a report or ask for help.”
After the shooting in Detroit, the New York Police Department sent out an order to all precincts to be vigilant at the doors and make sure the security posts are staffed. There have been no shootings inside a New York station during the city’s historic crime drop over the past two decades.
Thomas Nee, president of the Boston police union, warned that a push to place civilians instead of full-fledged officers at the front desks at some neighborhood police stations is putting police at risk. Mr. Nee, also president of the National Association of Police Organizations, said violence against police has gone up “exponentially” recently, and “what we need is armed, trained, professional police officers.”
The gunbattle in Detroit was particularly brazen, and came during a month when 14 officers in the U.S. were killed and a 24-hour period in which 11 officers were shot.
Maki Haberfeld, chairwoman of John Jay College’s Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration in New York, said the violence against police represents “an epidemic of a lack of respect” for law enforcement. She said episodes such as the Detroit shootout underscore the limits of community policing.
“You cannot always assume the entire community out there is going to cooperate with police just because police officers are trying to cooperate with the community,” she said. “Police risk their lives to protect society, and they should be afforded an elevated status of protections.”
In Detroit, Peggy Anderson, the wife of wounded Sgt. David Anderson, said at a hospital Tuesday that she was happy when her husband “took a job inside the precinct, thinking, ‘Oh, he’s safe now.’”
“This isn’t right,” she said. “We have to take control of this city. These things shouldn’t happen.”
Since the shooting, a metal detector has since been installed at the entrance of the 6th Precinct station where the gunman walked in. The station, built in the mid-1980s, sits between a business district, a residential area and a row of manufacturing buildings on the city’s west side.
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