Policing the Diverse Suburbs

October 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hofstra University has been hosting a conference this week on the “challenging and emergent phenomenon of suburban diversity,” which finishes up today. The conference highlights a growing body of research on suburbs that are confronting sweeping changes to their schools, neighborhoods and population dynamics as minority communities expand. On Thursday, I discussed how police are dealing with the changes in a panel that included the Nassau County police commissioner, Lawrence Mulvey. The panelists agreed that immigration crackdowns – at least the way they are being carried out in programs such as Operation Community Shield – have become part of the problem, alienating the communities that police need to work with to combat crime.

Also interesting was a discussion about the intersection of hate crimes – and the divisions between ethnic groups that they highlight and exacerbate – and other crime on Long Island. As I argue in Gangs in Garden City, the recent pattern of hate-motivated crimes against Hispanics should not be discussed in isolation from other crime problems on the island, including the reasons that so many minority youth have been attracted to the protection and sense of pride and identity offered by street gangs.

Policing styles are quite different in the two counties that make up the island. In Suffolk County, where there has been a spike in violent crime over the past year, police have worked closely with immigration agents, have been criticized for ignoring hate crime complaints and only recently started a gang taskforce to address a rising gang presence there. In Nassau, police in specialized units at both the local and county level have been focused on gangs for several years. They have been highly critical of Operation Community Shield. They have also partnered with schools and other local institutions to look for solutions beyond arrests and prisons, and in some cases have called for more education and afterschool program funding.

This broader view of the issue seems to be paying off: crime in Nassau is down by 10 percent since last year, compared to a 9.5 percent increase in Suffolk. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear from any Suffolk representatives on Thursday, and I should note that Nassau still isn’t crime free.

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