New Marion Chief brings welcome changes

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Marion’s new police chief is already mixing things up, and we look forward to the new landscape.

Joe McHale is a second-generation police officer. He spent years in traditional roles before helping lead the multi-jurisdictional Kansas City No Violence Alliance. He admits he was initially skeptical of KC NoVA’s “focused deterrence” strategy to engage the community, include social services and provide no tolerance for bad behavior.

“It acknowledged that we couldn’t arrest our way out of a cycle of crime,” McHale told our editorial board.

The data-based collaboration identified 50-some groups of about 900 people causing most of the problem. Instead of trying to police a large geographic area, NoVA policed the social network.

Individuals identified as influencers became the focus. “We told them the likelihood of murder in their group was 100 times the national average; that they were more likely to survive deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Social services were tapped, offering alternatives. Agencies “dropped the hammer” on those who refused to change. And, it worked. In one year, homicide rates dipped by 23 percent.

It’s a strategy McHale wants to apply to non-violent crime, like the recent uptick in burglaries in Linn County.

Newly forged partnerships with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Foundation 2 have resulted in a U.S. Department of Justice grant application. If successful, Marion will be the lead recipient of resources needed to map local social networks and hopefully turn the tide on property crimes, often connected to drug use.

Even if the grant is denied, McHale plans to adopt more technology-driven approaches, and has already begun data-focused realignments.

Comprehensive and open collaborations that directly engage the community haven’t been a hallmark of local law enforcement — and generally run afoul of long-standing perceptions about the Marion department, which is better known for its robust ticketing. Slowly and deliberately, McHale assured, that’s going to change.

We’re already appreciative of McHale’s emphasis on transparency, and can find no downside to tactics that bridge the invisible boundaries between local communities. It’s an approach that will improve police-community relations, and make policing safer for those in blue and the citizens they serve.

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