People in The ‘Burgh, and some on the Council, are calling for a return of the Street Crime Unit. So I say give it to them.
Police Chief John Tedesco, instead, said he will suspend all training and put 20 more cops on the streets. I’m pretty sure the “suspend all training” is directed at the Emergency Response Team, a SWAT like unit sporadically used in drug raids and the like, but be that as it may. Twenty more cops on the street can’t do anything but good.
As for the SCU, just reinstating the unit doesn’t mean it will be as successful as it was in 2007 when it first kicked off in Troy.
It takes a special kind of cop to make it work. One with enough guts to go nose-to-nose with thugs on their level, and to be tough enough to win if it comes down to fisticuffs. It doesn’t mean taking cheap shots if the bad guys are already restrained or are in lockup, and it doesn’t mean just beating random drunken RPI students or citizens for that matter. Some cops are already in trouble for things like that.
“You have to out-thug the thug,” said former Sgt. Dave Dean, who headed up the SCU seven years or so ago.
On the flip side it takes a cop willing to get to know people. Not just the good guys, who can help out in obvious ways, but the bad guys too. The bad guys know more about other bad guys than the good guys and the cops combined. However, you can’t get so close to the bad guys that you forget what team you’re on. There is a fine line between a good SCU cop and a criminal but it is clearly defined. One cop is already in trouble for crossing the line.
In other words, you want a cross between Wyatt Earp and Oprah Winfrey.
Dean and then Deputy Mayor Dan Crawley knew that dynamic and to get the right kind of cop they first had to work around the Police Benevolent Association’s iron clad clause of bidding jobs based on seniority. To accomplish that, they made the job the least desirable on the force. The shift was 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., days off were Tuesday and Sunday, for example, and there wasn’t any authorized overtime. There was some overtime spent on backfilling the positions the six guys left to join the SCU but they got very little for working the detail.
“We wanted guy who were smart and tough … but also hungry,” Dean said. They are few and far between and it's a heavy lift, given the PBA contract, to get them in the unit which is probably why Tedesco is reluctant to reinstate the SCU. It could cause more problems than it's worth if it's not done right.
The six guys who signed up, I’m sure, were recruited by Dean and I’m sure he promised them it would be a good time and they’d be able to do the very things that drew them to police work in the first place – chase down and arrest bad guys.
And they did. A lot of them.
From May to August of 2008, they made more than 300 arrests in the crime plagued North Central neighborhood – 100 in the first month alone. They arrested people for anything and everything. From smoking a joint on the porch – which happened to be the SCU’s first bust – to open container, to excessive noise to littering. No crime was too small, and they often led to bigger busts. The SCU made 20 felony arrests in the first month.
They were pretty much left to their own devices too. One night they would hide in bushes and wait for the chance to pounce. Other nights they walk around and talk to people – good guys and bad guys. Other nights they would just march around the neighborhood in body armor and armed to the teeth daring anyone to bring it on.
Metroland did a good piece on the SCU in August of 2008.
And the SCU did a pretty good job of cleaning up North Central. In March of 2008, seven months after the SCU took over the neighborhood, there wasn’t one robbery or violent crime in North Central. And there wasn’t a shooting in that neighborhood for nearly a year. A year after its inception, though, the PBA contract got in the way, other cops saw the headlines and the fun the SCU was having and the wrong guys ended up on the unit. It just wasn't the same.
Unheard of statistics in North Central, and proof the SCU can work – at least in the short term. But many of the people targeted by the SCU are so transient they just picked up and left. We are seeing that now, with the recent crime outbreak in The ‘Burgh. I dare say that the SCU just chased the bad guys a few blocks north. Or maybe to Cohoes or Albany or Schenectady.
Crime is a byproduct of so many different things that a unit of six officers, regardless of how good or how tough or how well trained, will just not make that much of a difference in the long term. Poverty, drug abuse, broken homes … there is a laundry list of societal ills that contribute to the crime problem in this country.
Of course, it’s still the individual’s choice and they are held individually responsible for their actions. But no individual is an island. The better society is prepared for the individual the better the individual will be. Conversely, the better each individual is the better society will be.
What came first … the chicken or the egg?