Pittsburgh Point of View: Chuck Bosetti discusses Neighborhood Response Teams (NRTs)

January 22nd, 2021

The Pittsburgh Point of View blog is for the presentation of original, thoughtful, and constructive proposals that promote community well-being and trust between the community and police. We invite you to submit unique, original ideas developed through critical thinking. You might be thinking of a way to adapt a particular model of community policing or propose a police training method to meet our local community needs.

Our first guest writer, Chuck Bosetti is a former police officer and freelance writer who examines socio-political influence in policing. Bosetti discusses a community/police partnership model of community support, Neighborhood Response Teams (NRTs). “Neighborhood Response Teams have been successful in other cities for many years. I recommended the approach to the Chief of Police and other community and elected leaders in 2011. The concept was well-received but never implemented.”

To: Chief Nathan E. Harper
From: M.P.O. c.i. Bosetti, #3037
Date: February 25, 2011
Subject: NEIGHBORHOOD RESPONSE TEAM (NRT)

As per our conversation of 1/19/11 this memorandum is to propose and explain the rationale, merits and limitations of implementing NRT in Pittsburgh. The history, form and function of this concept is described in the three attached case studies which were presented to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2000. Also attached is the May 2005 executive summary of the IACP Analysis of PBP (to provide background for non-Bureau personnel). I’ve also had informal conversations with ADA Lawrence Claus on this issue and he has kindly offered to provide legal advice on any aspect of NRT that may involve prosecutorial discretion.

I. Rationale

Essentially, NRT consists of a police officer, a psychiatric social worker, a public health nurse, and representatives of public housing, the Bureau of Building Inspections (BBI), public schools and the District Attorney’s office. The officer transports the team to meetings with concerned citizens in neighborhoods of the city that most require information on quality of life issues, especially the early signs of narcotic activity and use, problem properties and emerging signs of violent behavior in the children of that neighborhood. The goal is to identify adverse physical conditions and social pathology at the earliest opportunity and, with regard to youth, implement corrective measures when they are most effective -prior to the teenage years.

In his book “Thinking About Crime”, Professor James Q. Wilson, this country’s preeminent scholar on this subject, observes that federal and local governments focus on what is easy instead of what is necessary; statistical, programmatic control of police behavior, sentencing guidelines and management of the criminal justice system, which, “have only a limited influence on the crime rate. ” It is, rather, “our general prosperity, our child rearing methods and our popular values that most powerfully influence the crime rate.”

The behavior of our children has always been predictive.So when I became aware of the NRT concept in 1994, while assigned to our community policing unit, I brought the idea to the attention of local mental health professionals and the Mayor at the time, Tom Murphy. The body count was rising and all agreed upon the value of NRT but, for a variety of reasons, it was not acted upon. Since then our “popular values”, or the lack of them, make the concept even more relevant.

The U.S. crime rate has generally declined in recent years due to the aging of the largest segment of the population (“boomers”),improved police methodology and scientific advances. But the rate of person-on-person violent crime, especially crimes with no rational motive, has increased. A recent Pittsburgh homicide involved a brother shooting his pregnant sister over an ordinary family argument; a recent Philadelphia homicide involved teens shooting one of their peers, execution style, after they had discovered that the victim was not their intended target.

Societal issues regarding family structure, race and poverty have long contributed to the low self-esteem, anger and violence of inner city youth. Now modern technology has poured gas on the fire by streaming easily accessible, vivid images of misogyny and violence to children in their formative years. This elevates cultural pathology as a causal factor in violent crime.

No previous generation has been exposed so often to so much violent imagery during childhood. Throughout history children have been traumatized by the violence of war and natural disaster. But “high tech” violence that is imagery, not reality; that is designed to excite and arouse without any real pain to the child, leadsthechildto amalignantparody ofwhatall kidsdo; imitate, integrate and adopt observed behavior. Past, and some present, media influence was mild, even helpful-no one got shot in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Now the line between first amendment rights and responsibilities is hopelessly blurred.

I stress the multi-media influence issue because it has become a dominant contributing factor to “herd-think” among the young and NRTis the most realistic way to provide psychological advice and counter measures to concerned parents; and also because some in policing think NRT is about psychology instead of crime prevention. Increasingly though, social psychology is becoming as integral a part of crime prevention as traditional methods.

    II. Merits

  • A basic NRT is meaningful and cost effective.It can be formed by “partnering” city-county personnel who are already on their respective payrolls. In addition to providing an early warning system for criminal behavior and a variety of public health issues, it allows the team officer to form relationships with honest citizens who can pass on valuable information regarding specific criminal activity.
  • Some years ago I answered a call with EMS involving a mother whose semi•conscious teen-aged son had “pink foam” on his lips. She didn’t know the signs of congestive heart failure due to cocaine overdose and waited over an hour to call 911. The boy died. NRT can prevent tragedies by providing valuable information to parents while simultaneously building bridges.
  • NRT also provides an opportunity for officers to explain police procedure and to counter paranoid urban rumors.
  • NRT will compliment other valid community outreach efforts, and since restoring direct interaction with the community is its essential component, NRT will expose flawed efforts that are academically shallow, greedy for funding, or based on confrontation rather than analysis.
  • The 2005 IACP analysis found “identifiable erosion in community oriented engagement”. This is still the case. NRT addresses that issue.
  • The case studies show that with a representative of BBI on the team to prioritize complaints, issues regarding problem properties are identified and dealt with far more effectively.


    III. Limits

  • Of the three case studies presented to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2000, Miami-Dade PD’s model seems the most useful to Pittsburgh. The basic model still allows for simplicity even though Miami-Dade’s has grown to a partnership with over 40 agencies since 1992. But the scope of what is needed in Dade County dwarfs Pittsburgh’s needs. In accord with our size and fiscal restraints;”less is more”. A small, tight unit that consistently deals with neighborhood leaders seems best able to apprise our command staff and channel information to other agencies.
  • Since there is no quick fix for social ills, and since meeting with angry, frustrated citizens can be combative, there must be “rules of engagement”;
  1. No complaints against individual officers will be taken at public meetings.
  2. If a resident wishes to pass on information regarding a specific crime he should call the team officer and discuss it confidentially. No one should announce the name or criminal actions of a specific person in public.
  3. As with any community oriented effort, the officers must understand that the NRTcrime prevention value lies in addressing problem behavior before it becomes criminal behavior and in addressing quality of life issues with a minimum of red tape. We can’t establish the necessary trust if we’re perceived to be using public concern as a ruse to up the arrest rate.
  4. No politicians or their representatives will attend these meetings. Political leaders already have a variety of forums available to them. The bond we need to form is between the team and the neighborhood.

There are areas of relevance for Pittsburgh in the attached case studies regarding Lincoln, Nebraska and Anaheim, California, though they both focus primarily on property issues. The Miami-Dade NRT was conceived to deal primarily with violent crime.

Since the case studies of 2000 the NRT concept has only grown. Today Miami-Dade PD has multiple units over three shifts.

If adopted, the suggested first step would be a meeting at HQ with representatives from partner agencies to consider personnel and scheduling and to establish channels of communication.

Respectfully submitted,
M.P.O. c.i. Bosetti, #3037
cc: ADA Lawrence Claus

The opinions expressed by guest contributors on this page represent the contributors’ current personal opinions only and do not represent the opinion or official position of the Independent Citizen Police Review Board, any Member of the Board, any Solicitor of the Board, any staff member of the Board, the City of Pittsburgh, or any elected representative or any employee of the City of Pittsburgh. The contributors’ opinions are based on information considered reliable by the contributor and have not been validated or verified by the Independent Citizen Police Review Board. Publication on this page does not confer the Independent Citizen Police Review Board’s endorsement of the idea(s) presented by the contributor(s). Submissions welcome.