COIN making life better for an American city (is this good news?)

For several years I have wondered why, if our COIN methods of understanding and manipulating foreign cultures work so well, why we did not apply them in America’s failed “states” — our inner cities. The leaders of Washington DC have taken up this dare.

The Examiner explains:

Under an executive order expected to be announced today, police Chief Cathy L. Lanier will have the authority to designate “Neighborhood Safety Zones.” At least six officers will man cordons around those zones and demand identification from people coming in and out of them. Anyone who doesn’t live there, work there or have “legitimate reason” to be there will be sent away or face arrest, documents obtained by The Examiner show.

Lanier has been struggling to reverse D.C.’s spiraling crime rate but has been forced by public outcry to scale back several initiatives including her “All Hands on Deck” weekends and plans for warrantless, door-to-door searches for drugs and guns.

Under today’s proposal, the no-go zones will last up to 10 days, according to internal police documents. Front-line officers are already being signed up for training on running the blue curtains. Peter Nickles, the city’s interim attorney general, said the quarantine would have “a narrow focus.” “This is a very targeted program that has been used in other cities,” Nickles told The Examiner. “I’m not worried about the constitutionality of it.”

 

Others are. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the D.C. police union and a former lawyer, called the checkpoint proposal “breathtaking.” Shelley Broderick, president of the D.C.-area American Civil Liberties Union and the dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s law school, said the plan was “cockamamie.” “I think they tried this in Russia and it failed,” she said. “It’s just our experience in this city that we always end up targeting poor people and people of color, and we treat the kids coming home from choir practice the same as we treat those kids who are selling drugs.”

The proposal has the provisional support of D.C. Councilman Harry “Tommy” Thomas, D-Ward 5, whose ward has become a war zone. “They’re really going to crack down on what we believe to be a systemic problem with open-air drug markets,” Thomas told The Examiner. Thomas said, though, that he worried about D.C. “moving towards a police state.”

No need to take their word for it, when we can read of “Expanded Public Safety Initiatives Aimed“, Press Release, 4 June 2008 — Excerpt:

Today, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced the expansion of the Focused Improvement Area (FIA) initiative into four new neighborhoods and the creation of the Neighborhood Safety Zones (NSZ) initiative. Both programs are targeted initiatives aimed at reducing criminal activity and increasing quality of life in at-risk communities.

“The residents of the District of Columbia depend on their government to keep the city where they live, work and play safe,” said Fenty. “These initiatives allow us to deploy tools we already have available in a targeted way to have the greatest impact.”

Expanding Focused Improvement Areas

The Focused Improvement Areas were established as a pilot program in November 2007 to combine an increased law enforcement presence with support from human service agencies and community-based organizations to address deeper societal issues facing at-risk communities. The program will be expanded into four new neighborhoods (maps attached), which will bring the total number of FIAs to seven. FIAs involve several District agencies in cooperation with non-governmental community-based organizations to address the root causes of crime by increasing employment services, engaging youth in meaningful activities, promoting individual health, well being and family strengthening, and improving neighborhood appearance.

In addition to intensified efforts to improve neighborhood appearance, human services resources are focused on at-risk individuals, their families and households. Individuals and households selected for direct outreach and intervention are identified through public safety information and outreach led by non-governmental volunteers including faith-based groups and government agencies and school outreach, with an emphasis on root-cause analysis. Crime statistics have shown overall reductions in crime in the pilot FIAs, particularly in the categories of assaults and automobile theft. …

Neighborhood Safety Zones

The Neighborhood Safety Zone initiative has been developed to help increase security for those who live in high-crime areas around the city and to help residents reclaim their communities. The program will authorize the Metropolitan Police Department to set up public safety checks to help safeguard community members and create safer neighborhoods in the District by increasing police presence aimed at deterring crime.

… Potential Neighborhood Safety Zones must be approved by the Chief of Police, and will be in effect for a maximum of 10 days. Public safety checks will be established along the main thoroughfares of the established neighborhoods. Anyone driving into a designated area may be asked to show valid identification with a home address in that neighborhood, or to provide an explanation for entering the NSZ, such as attending church, a doctor’s appointment or visiting friends or relatives. Pedestrians will not be subject to the public safety checks.

“The Neighborhood Safety Zones is just another tool MPD will employ to stop crime before it happens. The Neighborhood Safety Zone initiative will help residents terrorized by violent crime to take back their neighborhoods,” said Chief Lanier.

Initiatives such as the Neighborhood Safety Zones have been accepted by federal courts as a legitimate law enforcement practice in keeping with the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The constitutionality of the NSZ initiative has been reviewed by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

In what other cities have these measures been used? 1942 Warsaw? 1956 Budapest? 2006 Fallujah? Megan McArdle sums it up well:

I hope that when the police ask for their papers, people will hand them a copy of the Bill of Rights too. It might prove instructive. If not, at least we’ll all have the grim pleasure of saying “Here are my civil rights. Please take them.”

No mention yet of concrete walls around “high risk” neighborhoods. Perhaps that is phase two.

Mayor Fenty, a Democratic Party politico, has joined the “civil liberties mean nothing to me” team (although Bush is Team Captain, both parties are well-represented in its ranks). Fortunately liberals have for decades told us not to worry about slippery slopes of public policy. So no need to worry.

Update: a favorable review of this action

“Geography of Denial of Movement”, posted at Geographic Travels with Catholicgauze! (4 June 2008) — Hat tip on this to Dan Tdaxp.  Excerpt:

All this is an effort to finally bring order to some of the worst parts of the nation’s capital. The plan has some recent precedents supporting it. Walls in Baghdad have managed to keep fighting neighboring ethnic groups separate. The walls, especially those keeping back Sadr’s Mahdi Army, have been credited in lowering the level of violence. The Israeli government is building barriers between Israel-proper and the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The West Bank Wall is praised by some for preventing infiltration by suicide bombers.  The way denial of movement works is 

  1. it is harder for an outsider to enter another neighborhood and cause trouble (people usually do not wage violence near their homes)
  2. law enforcement has greater ground knowledge of what is going on (it is much easier to control a smaller area than a larger area) and
  3. increased police presences acts as a signal showing who is in control.

I suspect throughout all of history, every move toward a police state was greeted with similar analysis.  The crime/liberty trade-off appeals to many people, including those that see no alternatives other than high levels of crime and opppression of the lower classes.

Update #2

D.C. Police to Check Drivers In Violence-Plagued Trinidad“, Washington Post  (5 June 2008) — More details about the plan and local reactions to it.  Excerpt:

Some residents expressed support for the plan yesterday, saying they are willing to submit to the checks if it makes the neighborhood safer. “We can’t endure any more homicides,” said neighborhood activist India Henderson.

But others said they were disappointed police have not developed relationships that would allow them to gather information and find criminals without resorting to the stepped-up tactics.  “I knew eventually we’d be a police state,” said Wilhelmina Lawson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. “They don’t talk to us, they’re not community minded.”

One of Lanier’s plans, the Safe Homes initiative, has yet to get off the ground because of a community backlash. The plan, announced by Lanier and Fenty at a news conference in March, called for police to go door-to-door in crime-ridden areas and ask residents whether they could go inside and search for guns. Residents and some council members voiced concerns that homeowners would feel intimidated by police. Lanier backed off, but said she plans to move forward soon by having residents call police to set up appointments.

Another plan, to arm hundreds of patrol officers with semiautomatic rifles, starting this summer, also got mixed reviews from residents. 

Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was concerned about public perception of the checkpoints and the potential that it could lead to more citizen complaints. He questioned Lanier’s overall approach, saying, “There is no strategy and no mid-term and long-term planning.

Update #3 

Is the DC Checkpoint Plan Unconstitutional?“, Orin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy (5 June 2008) — Opening:

The Washington Post has a detailed story on DC’s plans for a “military style checkpoint” to stop gun violence. Eugene mentioned it briefly below, but I wanted to blog at some length about the legal issues. It turns out that there’s a fairly specific Fourth Amendment law of automobile checkpoints, and that we can look to those cases to see how the DC law fits in. My bottom line: I think the DC checkpoint plan is pretty clearly unconstitutional.

Let’s start with some background. The Supreme Court has held that the legality of automobile checkpoints are governed by a reasonableness standard under the Fourth Amendment. The cases try to balance the government’s interests against the privacy interest and permit the automotive checkpoint when the government has a good reason and the infringement on privacy is minimal. So, for example, the police can use a drunk driving check point, or an immigration checkpoint, so long as they are well designed to minimize the privacy intrusion. See, e.g., Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990) (drunk driving checkpoint okay); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976) (immigration checkpoint okay)

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11 thoughts on “COIN making life better for an American city (is this good news?)

  1. I don’t think this is quite the same as COIN tactics, but it is quite like how we’re administering Iraq.

    I can’t wait for the locally-led military assault on Logan Circle.

    Oh, and this is very similar to the Soviet residency system — show your papers, or get out. We used to find that horrible.

    The upshot is, repressive police states usually have really low crime.

    Fabius Maximus replies: Depends on how one defines COIN. From reading DOD and pro-war writers, COIN is whatever we do in Iraq.

  2. Wow. Here we go. I guess there are two main roads to follow from this junction – at one extreme, the biometrics and walls of Fallujah to impose order and on the other extreme, the rising up of a strong community that just needed a respite from violence and the skewing of the local economy via drug entrepreneurs.

    Is there enough of civil society left in those areas to act as a seed-bed to “take back the neighborhood?” Let’s hope so, otherwise the police checkpoints could go from 10 run times to perpetual and the checkpoints themselves from temporary structures to concrete and razor wire.

  3. I wonder if the DC police have sufficient firepower for this. Perhaps they will soon need artillery and air support.

  4. The proposal has the provisional support of D.C. Councilman Harry “Tommy” Thomas, D-Ward 5, whose ward has become a war zone. “They’re really going to crack down on what we believe to be a systemic problem with open-air drug markets,”

    An alternative approach to Thomas’ assert problem has been proposed by Hopeful City, which I discussed in a prior post.

    Our East Wheeling leaders developed a process to engage 300 of their neighbors in creating a neighborhood revitalization plan, funded by the Wheeling Housing Authority. Our new Holy Ground Task Force pressured Wheeling’s police chief to have officers build community relationships by teaming them with East Wheeling residents to conduct door-to-door conversations; over 600 households were contacted.

    Nearly 400 residents from throughout the city joined together to declare a united effort to eliminate illegal drug activity, resulting in one drug house being boarded up the following week. These leaders are currently working with city officials and representatives of the Catholic Diocese to resolve a dangerous sidewalk situation that has plagued the neighborhood for eight years.

  5. Update, a favorable review of this action

    Geography of Denial of Movement“, posted at Geographic Travels with Catholicgauze! (4 June 2008) — Excerpt:

    All this is an effort to finally bring order to some of the worst parts of the nation’s capital. The plan has some recent precedents supporting it. Walls in Baghdad have managed to keep fighting neighboring ethnic groups separate. The walls, especially those keeping back Sadr’s Mahdi Army, have been credited in lowering the level of violence. The Israeli government is building barriers between Israel-proper and the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The West Bank Wall is praised by some for preventing infiltration by suicide bombers.

    The way denial of movement works is

    (1) it is harder for an outsider to enter another neighborhood and cause trouble (people usually do not wage violence near their homes)
    2) law enforcement has greater ground knowledge of what is going on (it is much easier to control a smaller area than a larger area) and
    (3) increased police presences acts as a signal showing who is in control. {end}

    I suspect throughout all of history, every move toward a police state was greeted with similar analysis. The crime/liberty trade-off appeals to many people, including those that see no alternatives other than high levels of crime and opppression of the lower classes.

    Hat tip on this to Dan Tdaxp.

  6. Well this is standard US COIN tactics. Surprised it has taken them so long. It is a logical expansion of everything that has happened in the last few years.

    The US economy is tanking. I watch the numbers very closely and it is bad, very, very bad.

    Now how can you maintain the same system (e.g all those F-22s) when the standard of living is collapsing for ordinary people (grounds being set up for camps for those who have just lost their houses?)? US people are pretty passive, but when it gets to a certain point they can make the French look like amateurs. That’s when all the techniques used in Iraq will start to be applied in the US, with equal success I might add.

    Look I have a lot of confidence in the ordinary US citizen, and, in the long run it will work out. Doesn’t mean a lot of years of hard times first though.

  7. Updates in the post:

    “D.C. Police to Check Drivers In Violence-Plagued Trinidad”, Washington Post (5 June 2008) — More details about the plan and local reactions to it.

    “Is the DC Checkpoint Plan Unconstitutional?”, Orin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy (5 June 2008)

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