Most police officers have experienced a sense of frustration working within a judicial system that often protects the guilty along with the innocent. And, in many cases, those convicted of crimes or awaiting trail, have more rights than a civilian who has never committed a crime.
With the recent advent of police- corrections partnerships throughout the country, it appears that the scales of justice are becoming more balanced. Most of these programs are new and evolving, but usually target-selected offenders who are on probation or parole and are considered high risk or believed to criminally active. They are designed to reduce crimes committed by probationers or parolees by detecting violations and intervening quickly.
The key to the success of these programs is the combining of police and probation or parole resources. For example, a probation officer can give a police officer who is patrolling a neighborhood, information on the conditions of an individual's probation. If those conditions are violated, the officer can then document the information back to the probation officer.
As gang- related crime continue to increase, another asset of the program is that police officers might not have the legal authority to prevent a gang member who is on probation from hanging out with other member of his gang. If a probation officer is with a police officer and sees this occur, he begins proceeding to revoke the gang member's probation.
A third benefit is the ability to share information that can help police officers in their investigations. It can also help probation and parole officers by giving them more information about individuals they are supervising.
Finally, probation officers may have the ability to convince reluctant probationers to cooperate with police officers in their investigations.
Enter Nightwatch, an innovative successful police probation partnership that has been in effect in Long Island in Nassau county, New York sing March 1998. The statistics for Operation Nightwatch clearly prove its success.
Measuring Success- A Fast Start
Since Nightwatch's inception until Aug. 30, 1999, the officers have made 1,095 visits. During this time, 309 probationers were home and 33 field interviews were conducted.
Seventy- four arrests were made for violations that ranged from drugs to weapons possessions. In addition to those arrests, 73 individuals were arrested on violation of parole warrants. One hundred and nineteen weapons were confiscated, including rifles, shotguns and handguns. An assortment of drugs, including cocaine and marijuana were also confiscated.
In September 1999, a home visit resulted in the seizing of $10,000 in cash, two pounds of marijuana and two ounces of cocaine.
Nightwatch is characterized by Inspector Anthony Rocco as "one of the most cost-effective methods of dealing with the common goal of making the streets safe for everybody. Prior to this program, out relationship with probation was either non-existent or peripheral and on an individual basis. It is now much more personal, much more working together."
According to George Thorsen, assistant director of probation in Nassau County, his agency, prior to the program, did most of their casework during the day. Now they have the ability to do evening home visits.
"We worked with the police department, but on a case basis. It was case driven. Now, we have a true partnership and work together on a daily basis. This operation has defined how we do business in this county."
Nightwatch is funded partially with a $20,000 grant from the New York State Attorney General's office and $16,000 yearly funding from the district attorney's office.
The programs began in the first precinct in the county and in the Village of Hempstead. It now has expanded to the entire county, including the police departments in the City of Glen Cove and the Villages of Rockville Center and Freeport.
In the first precinct, an unusual team of officers has worked together since the program began. Dennis Walsh spent three years as a New York City Police officer and nine years as a Nassau County officer. Roy Mangiamele spent five years in New York city and six years in Nassai county. Richard Nesdall spent the last 29 years as a Nassau County probation officer. They joke and smoke cigars together, but when it comes to working they perform as a precision team. Whether it is police work, or probation work, or the combination of both, they back each other up and instinctively know what the other person will do.
A Tour of Duty
They begin their evenings with a list of probationers who have been identified by their probation officers as potentially high-risk individuals. With the police officers functioning as backups for the probation officer, they make approximately 10 to 15 visits a night. Many times the probationer is not home, and they have to return on another evening. Sometimes a relative will let them look in the probationer's room, and sometime that will lead to unexpected findings. Recently a mother, convinced her son was not violent, let the officers in his room. They came out with a rifle, two banana clips, two daggers, and a bag filled with a gram of the drug Ecstasy.
Home visits can also unexpectedly turn violent. Two officers were injured during the past year. The home visits can also often be interrupted by other police calls. On one evening, a call came out for a robbery that had just occurred. Within seconds the Nightwatch team was at the scene, checking the surrounding streets. Their roles abruptly changed as Probation Officer Nesdall became a backup for the two police officers/
Asked about having a probation officer working with them, Officer Walsh said, "It can depend on the probation officer. We don't worry about Dick. He is not a hindrance. He is an extra guy. You can get a little more done with three. It is also a learning experience for the search and seizure laws. They do not have the training that we do. We can run into other situations where there is no justification to go into the house."
Officer Walsh went on to explain: "We get informants from them. They can work out deals. If someone is on probation you can stop them on the street and he can search them.
"This opportunity for probation and police to get results that could not be achieved prior to the conception of this program," said Officer Nesdall.
According to the Officer Walsh, the effectiveness of house visits can be short-lived. "they now know you are coming. I prefer the street stops. Roosevelt is a thigh knit community. Someone gets arrested, everyone may not be like that."
Working with police officers out on the street can be an enlightening experience for the probation officer. "We usually don't work at night," said Officer Nesdall. "It is at night that these areas turn into a reality we had no knowledge of."
"When they (probationers) show up for their probation appointment they will be on their best behavior. The probation officer does not see them in their environment," said Officer Walsh. "It's a giving of information back and forth- sharing information. Probation probably gives us more than we give them."
"They talk to probation more than they will talk to us," said Officer Mangiamele.
"If they are seen talking to us on the street they will be labeled a rat," he added. But when they visit their probation officer he can lighten upon them. That is the best part of it," he added.
Expanding the Reach
The mayor of Hempstead Village first brought Nightwatch to the village and the county. Mayor James Garner said he considers the program to be an unqualified success.
"It has helped us clean up here in Hempstead. I think the program is great, excellent, the best ever done as far as law enforcement."
Sgt. Frank Edwards, the coordinator for Nightwatch in the village said the program is "another tool for our patrol force.
"We are making visits in the community and people are seeing us coming out in force. They know we are making them accountable. We are now also more conscious to ask if they are on probation."
Sgt. Edwards went on to explain, "I don't have a problem getting on the phone and asking who the probation officer is. I will then call the officer and tell him, for example that I saw this guy hanging out with five other guys in a backyard. They walked away but I know they were doing cocaine. When we looked around we found $1,000 worth of crack, but no one was standing close enough to charge them.
"I checked out who was there, found out who was on probation and called the probation officer. I told him that I had reasonable, suspicion to believe that it was his stash of drugs. His probation officer then can give him closer supervision and check his urine. If it came back positive, he wouldn't give any slack."
Sgt. Edwards said there are many situations where the program has helped. "For example, if you have a family fight and a guy is giving the officers a rough time. We can ask him if he is on probation. It helps out."
In Hempstead, the program has resulted in 16 arrests, and the confiscation of three handguns, seven rifles, four daggers, one billy club, two combat knives, assorted other knives, and numerous boxes of assorted ammunition.
The legality of the programs such as Nightwatch has been reaffirmed in numerous courts.
One issue is the correctional agency's authority to search the living quarters of probationers and parolees and the subsequent range of the exclusionary rule if they find evidence of wrongdoing.
In June 1998, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole vs. Scott, DN97-581 that evidence obtained in warrantless searches by parole officers could be considered in a revocation hearing, even though the evidence would not be admissible in a new criminal trial. Justice Clarence Thomas drew a clear distinction between the purpose of search by police and those by parole officers, stating that police search to obtain evidence that can be used to convict the offenders of crimes while parole officers search to obtain evidence that bear on compliance with parole conditions.
He stated that parole officers have a more supervisory than adversarial relationship with parolees.
In June 1995, a lower court ruling (United States vs. James 893F.Supp.649 U.S.D.Tex.,July 1995) also upheld warrantless searches on the grounds that probation and parole officers do not target offenders.
The ruling resulted in probation and parole officers having greater latitude to conduct searches of people and their immediate surroundings that are under their supervision. Many of the programs have begun to rely on the warrantless searches and , in some states, these search powers may be further justified because these agencies require offenders to agree to submit to warrantless searches as a standard condition of their supervision.
For example, in Nassau County, it is stated under their order and condition of probation that the probationer must "submit to a warrantless search of your person, property or residence by the probation officer."
In June 1999, the legality of Operation Nightwatch in Nassasu County was reaffirmed by a New York State Court of Appeals decision (The people vs. Bryan Hale, June 10, 1999). In a unanimous ruling, Judge Albert Rosenblatt wrote, "...a defendant on probation does not stand in the same constitutional shoes as someone entirely free of judicial supervision and control. At one extreme, a person who has just been lawfully placed under arrest for armed robbery has an expectation of privacy vastly inferior to a law- abiding citizen enjoying a quiet evening at home."
It is important to note that the effectiveness of the police- probation and parole partnerships rely heavily on these warrantless searches.
Courts Have Backed the Searches
To date, case laws have supported that fact that these searches are neutral and supervisory in nature. This is in contrast to police searches that may be considered adversarial and geared to uncovering evidence to convict in a criminal trail.
Jurisdictions considering these programs must be careful not to allow these searches to be used as a tool for police to uncover evidence that would result in imprisonment of targeted individuals.
Nassau County, for example, trains their officers to take the role of backup for the probation officers. It is the probation officer who first enters the home, speaks to the probationer or person residing in the house, and makes all the decisions as to who and what will be searched.
The benefits of developing programs such as Nightwatch, are numerous. While probation officers can need police protection in making home visits in high crime areas, police officers can get back important information about subjects in the area who have had a history of violence.
Information from probation officers can help police officials solve new crimes and the sharing of information between agencies can be beneficial to all the agencies involved. Police departments can receive information from confidential informants provided by probation or parole and probation or parole officers can learn if the people they are supervising are adhering to the conditions of their release.
And then, from a law enforcement perspective, there may be the most satisfying benefit at the time: an opportunity to hook someone up and confiscate contraband.
For example, a few months ago in early October, the Nightwatch team made a home visit to a probationer who was originally charged with felony weapons possession. When they entered the home, they patted him down and found a vial of cocaine in his pants pocket. A search of his home then produced 1 ½ ounces of cocaine, a handgun, 17 long guns, including assault weapons, drum magazines for semiautomatic weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Also found were two inert mortar shells and a 40 mm canon shell.
A good take for any shift.
Shelly Feuer Domash, who resides in New York, is a writer specializing in law enforcement issues and a regular contributor to POLICE. Her most recent piece was a May '99 profile of another partnership program involving police and corrections officers, "Investigating gangs on Rikers Island."