For $285,000, consultants offer familiar-sounding recommendations

The police department dropped its 192-page "Strategic Plan for Improvement" on Nov. 21 with a press conference. Four days later, the City Council heard it explained (by a different consultant) and continued the endless debate about policing the city.

Under this plan, the department will attack gangs and guns, develop and maintain relationships of trust with the community, improve data quality, have ethics and integrity, and be a learning organization.

To get there, Commissioner Anthony Batts pledges the department to, within five years, "reflect the following characteristics:"

- Strong community collaboration on both tactics and policy

- Constitutional strategies in going after the most violent individuals

- Focus on outcomes

- A focus on problem-solving

- Respectful management

- Efficiency and accountability

- "A community that truly shares responsibility for setting the standard for safety and security in every neighborhood; where community members are vocal that they will not tolerate aberrant criminal and deviant behavior that damages their neighborhoods' quality of life."

The document, produced for $285,000 by the highest bidder for the work, Strategic Policy Partnership, LLC and The Bratton Group, LLC (run by former New York City police commissioner and Batts friend William J. Bratton), thus suffers from the same squishy vagueness that bedevils virtually all consultants' reports. Seemingly written in PowerPoint, the "Executive Summary" continues with more bullet points promising satisfaction leading to higher levels of "police legitimacy." There will be more cops on the neighborhood beat. Again, there will be "powerful ethics."

The next part discusses actions. First of these: "challenge district commanders to implement real-time creative strategies." The patrol officers will implement "new problem-solving strategies" while patrol resources will be reallocated.

One obvious point in a department where a training officer recently shot a trainee in the head: "Revamp training programs to enhance safety, increase efficacy in numerous areas, and align with national best practices."

There will be a lot of data and data infrastructure improvements along with "efficiencies" and cost savings.

It all looks very familiar to longtime police-watchers, some of whom have seen several of these expensive consultants' reports come and go. The CompStat system itself was a product of consultants who helped Bratton make his name in New York.

At a hearing Monday night, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young-who for years has demanded the department reduce its reliance on overtime payments-expressed disappointment with the document and the department's presentation of it.

Brandon Scott, the freshman 2nd District councilman who leads the Public Safety Committee, was more circumspect in his criticism. "The plan does not have anything earth-shattering or groundbreaking," he says.

Still, Scott hopes the department's districts will be revamped so his own northeast neighborhoods will get more cops. The Northeast has 95,000 calls for service annually, "the next closest is 75,000," he says. "It's something we've already paid for [consultants] to look at."

Scott's been a student of police policy for years. He's pushed for the efficiency improvements (like online reporting of petty theft and the like) and for using more non-sworn people to cover administrative tasks so the officers can be on the street doing things only police can do.

Scott was happy to see that a pilot program pinning cameras to police uniforms is under discussion. The cameras effectively watch the cops to reduce unnecessary violence and abuse, and Scott has been advocating their use for more than a year.

Scott also praised the return and bolstering of a "ceasefire" campaign in which former gang members intervene with known violent criminals to try to head off murders. "I was glad to see that in there," he says. "It takes it beyond the scope of trying to lock people up."

There will be more. Scheduling changes for cops must be negotiated with the police union, and some other changes may require legislation, Scott says. But the plan's overall effect is positive.

"This puts it into one place, one working document," he says.