International conference on "problem-oriented policing" coming to Ann Arbor

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, the Ann Arbor Police Department, and the University of Michigan Police Department will host the 30th annual Problem-Oriented Policing Conference at Ann Arbor's Kensington Hotel on April 25-27. Sponsored by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at Arizona State University, the international conference aims to advance the practice of problem-oriented policing (POP), which entails proactively identifying and addressing underlying social problems that lead to crime.

"POP is the type of policing many in our community have been asking to see. It's our policing philosophy, and to have the conference coming here is a pretty big deal," says Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement at the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office. "Although it's a policing conference, I want to let some of our local change agents know they are invited so they can see for themselves what is possible through policing."

Jackson has many years of firsthand experience with POP and has even given a TED Talk on the subject. About 14 years ago he was a social worker focusing on community-oriented work. When Sheriff Jerry Clayton asked Jackson to do similar work through the sheriff's office, Jackson says he "didn't quite see it at first." However, the more Clayton talked about it, the more it crystallized in Jackson's mind. 

"When I worked at Ozone House, there were often times when it was the police who brought a kid to our door. We don't think of the police this way, but they really can be the front door to a lot of our human services," he says. "And that's what problem-oriented policing is about. How do you use police to solve community crime problems and think along different lines than just arrest? What is the root cause of a particular crime problem?" 

Jackson underscores that POP is not about having police officers become social workers, but it is about thinking differently about the everyday kind of things police get called to do.

He references his TED Talk, in which he used an example of an undercover female officer who questioned why any woman would choose to become a sex worker after experiencing the fear and dangers of that life firsthand.

"When an officer starts asking why something is happening, then they can really start to dig deeper into the root causes. And it turns out the root cause for prostitution, at least in our county, was addiction," Jackson says. "Arresting someone doesn't solve that issue of addiction. And so it really started us down this path of thinking differently about prostitution in our community." 

Training police officers in POP principles and methods; analyzing and responding to homelessness-related problems; and civil unrest and problem-solving are just a few topics on the agenda for the upcoming conference. 

"We do pretty good work here and we've wanted to bring that international audience to the Washtenaw County area," Jackson says. "But we also wanted to bring it here because we wanted our state and our region and our community to really understand what problem-oriented policing is all about."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Derrick Jackson.