60 Minutes: Counterinsurgency Cops
We are used to hearing about counter-insurgency in America’s combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This job has two components: combating insurgents while fostering positive relationships in the communities and villages. Lesley Stahl reported on Springfield counterinsurgency tactics being used in an American city to combat street gangs.
As Stahl pointed out, the results of counterinsurgency are a mixed bag. But one former Green Beret-turned-police officer thought putting the strategy to work on the streets of America might be more effective.
60 Minutes: Springfield Gang Crimes
A gang crime unit in Springfield, Massachusetts, is putting the tactics to work, according to state trooper Mike Cutone. He came up with the idea while talking with a convenience store manager who complained that gangs were brazen about daylight robberies that went under-reported.
“Insurgents and gang members both want to operate in a failed area, a failed community, or a failed state,” Cutone explained, because “they know they can live off the passive support of the community,” who won’t call police.
This reminded Cutone of a town he defended in Iraq, and led him to come up with an action plan and form a pilot team embedded in the community.
60 Minutes: Springfield’s North End
Springfield deputy police chief John Barbieri said what appealed to him was getting the community members involved in solving the problems of crime that were facing them. At a North End housing project in Springfield, Massachusetts, Stahl learned of the organized gang members who used to walk openly in the streets with their weapons.
Cutone and his team of mostly war veterans took on the North End, a bustling heroin marketplace. The task force also went door to door and spent time in local businesses chatting with residents. When is the last time you had a conversation with a police officer that did not result in a traffic ticket?
As you might imagine, not everyone was receptive to this approach. One resident in particular had nothing nice to say to the officers. But their persistence paid off in the form of sources and tips.
60 Minutes: Springfield Elders Meetings
Cutone said “the floodgates have opened” with messages and phone calls from residents who want to share information they have observed. Moving into the town and living among the residents, a strategy that also paid off in Iraq.
“We’ve given them a template on how to control their town independently and without fear,” he said of what happens when an operation comes to an end.
Springfield wants to make the positive changes permanent. One of those changes is a weekly meeting of local leaders and community businesspeople. These regular elders meetings brought community resources together in the same room to pool resources.
60 Minutes: Walking School Bus
One resident offered to create a Walking School Bus. Due to fear of gangs, parents and students did not want to be out on the city’s streets. But now, troopers and teachers walk the students to school in groups, sending a visual message that the residents are taking back their city.
“It’s empowering the residents and the people that come to it,” Cutone said.
Major Kit Parker, a Harvard engineering professor who led Afghanistan counter-insurgency efforts, said that the key to success is making friends within the community.
60 Minutes: Harvard Counterinsurgency Lab
Parker met with Cutone and was amazed to see that someone was putting the wartime tactics in practice to fight gangs in America. The professor got his engineering students involved with a counter-insurgency lab.
These young minds helped figure out what data the town needed to collect, by creating software to manage intelligence and track information about gang members. Troopers put in information such as tattoos and criminal histories, mapping the relationships and associations between suspects.
Tracking these interpersonal connections can help troopers hone in on key targets, in attempts to cause the networks to fall apart.
60 Minutes: Springfield Counterinsurgency Results
Parker and his classroom headed to the city of Springfield to see the effects of the work that has been accomplished so far. Statistics on everything from graffiti to school attendance had improved since the start of the operation.
Discipline problems and drug offense were down in North End schools. The community may have escaped from under the thumb of the gangs. What’s more, residents are engaged in reporting crime and doing their part to clean up the neighborhood.
Resident Teddy Cupack said that he has been robbed 55 times as a resident of Springfield. But now the police are making a difference in his neighborhood for the first time. The troopers are even networking with young people to help them find jobs.
60 Minutes: Springfield Crime Rate Statistics
Cutone said that leadership and social services are benefits to the community that may not have been associated with police work in the past. Though he admitted that it is impractical to attempt to eliminate all drug arrests, but that his tactics are helping to make drug activity manageable.
Violent crime is down by 25% in the north end and drug offenses are down by half. Those are some decent results; I can’t help but feel this is like a new season of The Wire with better technology tools.
Stahl also took a ridealong with the unit to raid a house and track down three suspects from a local gang. After the arrests were made, the team turned to neighbors and got right back to networking.
Next, Cutone will be paying it forward, taking the results in Springfield back to work, training Afghan forces in counterinsurgency. That is a full circle moment.