One on One With…Chief Jim Burack,
Milliken Police Department
Jim Burack has been the Chief of Police in Milliken since 2001, as well as the Town Administrator since 2008. With a staff of nine officers and a Community Service and Resource Assistant, the police department serves a population of more than 6,000. This fast-growing northern Colorado town is expected to reach about 15,000 in the next 20 years. Chief Burack is an adjunct instructor in criminal justice at the University of Northern Colorado and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, having served in Iraq and Kosovo. He was Counsel and Director of Operations at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in Washington, D.C., from 1995 to 2001. The COPS Office’s Dr. Debra Cohen caught up with Chief Burack on the heels of a dedication ceremony for the new Milliken Police Station and Meeting House this past January.
CP Dispatch: Your agency recently built a new police facility designed to reflect community policing principles, both internally and externally, featured in the February 2010 Dispatch edition.1 How did you come up with the idea to move in that direction? What and/or who was your inspiration?
Chief Burack: The most critical influence was small-town Milliken and its quaint, small 75-year-old police station. In many ways, we see the promise of community policing most clearly in small communities and intimate police stations because we have reduced the distance between officer and community. I grew up in a town of 500 people—and we had one officer, the chief, so there was no insulation between the police and residents. The internal work environment with individual officer work stations around a conference table evolved directly from my high school experience where all my classes were held around a large conference table. It encourages communication and teamwork. The CPTED-inspired idea of placing the building in the center of town, along and overlooking the main street, came in part from my experience in Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004–05, where I served as a civil affairs officer.
CP Dispatch: Yet, in a keynote speech given at the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning,2 you talked about your initial skepticism with the idea of community policing. When did you begin to see community policing as a viable philosophy for your agency? What changed?
Chief Burack: Like most police officers trained nearly 2 ½ decades ago, I was fed a pretty conventional dose of professional, reactive policing. It worked for that community and that agency in that era. I simply was not exposed to the developing new idea of community policing. My turning point was reading Broken Windows, co-written by George Kelling who had been my project adviser during senior year at Dartmouth. When I came off active duty in the Marine Corps, Chuck Wexler at PERF hired me, and I had the good fortune of working for him and being exposed to the pioneering practitioners and researchers who changed policing over the last 3 decades, especially the folks involved with problem- oriented policing, such as Herman Goldstein. My time at PERF constituted a liberal education in policing.
CP Dispatch: During that same speech, you implied that policing can play an active role in social sustainability. Can you elaborate on that relationship?
Chief Burack: The social compact in modern American society requires professional police; public safety and security are the fundamental reasons why we have come together as a civilized society. Social sustainability is directly premised on safety and security, and police is the key grassroots provider. I would argue that a genuine healthy sustainable community in many places is not possible without police playing an active role.
But the police are only as effective as its indispensible partners: the courts and the range of social service agencies and nonprofit providers. The Milliken model will be an integrated community police and community court facility that also serves as a social service referral point. The value of that collaboration will be more than the sum of its parts.
CP Dispatch: On the topic of sustainability, it just so happens that April 2010 marks the 40th anniversary for Earth Day. Were there any environmental sustainability considerations that were incorporated into the new Milliken Police Station and Meeting House?
Chief Burack: We addressed environmental sustainability by orienting the building east-west for maximum natural southern exposure for light and heat, installing motion-activated lights and Energy Star appliances, and selecting a high efficiency mechanical system. We also incorporated the 60-year- old metal grain barn on the site into the structure and effectively recycled it into indoor parking for patrol vehicles and to house dog kennels and property/evidence storage, thus keeping the old building materials out of a landfill. We’re investigating placing solar power photovoltaic cells on the south- facing barn roof. The project also eliminated an old junk car lot and former service station, and remediated a brownfields site due to the leaking underground fuel tank. Probably like all project managers today, I wanted to do more—including pursue LEED certification but budgetary challenges forced us to compromise on that goal. The larger goal is to use the police facility to promote a livable and walkable downtown that helps spark an economically viable downtown. Perhaps the key sustainability idea was to site the building in the center of town where we have higher densities. We’re easily accessible on foot to our at-risk population who tend to be police clients. That eliminates lots of car trips by people who can’t afford them.
CP Dispatch: OK, now for the million dollar question—how did you drum up support for the new building, especially the financial support? Who were your benefactors?
Chief Burack: Actually, it was the 2 ½ million dollar question. That’s the amount the taxpayers of Milliken approved in the 2006 bond election to pay toward the building. I attribute that success, first, to the baseline who instinctually supports their local police, but second, and more important, I attribute it to a community that supports its police officers because of the service we provide and who we are. Community members, and officers on their off-duty time, and spouses went door to door to every residence in town to campaign for bond passage. It’s not easy to persuade taxpayers to increase their personal financial burden especially in these economic times but we did it because of our relationship with our residents. And we helped sell it by leveraging numerous additional grantors: we received nearly $600,000 in energy impact funds due to taxes on oil and gas production in our town limits. Later grants were obtained from USDA Rural Development grant and USDOJ JAG funds; from USDOJ COPS to underwrite a focus group, from Victim Assistance to furnish interview rooms, from Great Outdoors Colorado to construct the Cops & Kids Park next door, and from Target and Barnes & Noble who contributed toward our kid-friendly lobby and library. The community has been very supportive throughout the project because they have seen our downtown transform.
CP Dispatch: There are some folks who might think Milliken’s building concept could only work for small police agencies. What would you say to them? Are any of the ideas that were implemented in Milliken transferrable to a mid-size or larger police agency?
Chief Burack I think this question points out the key revelation—it’s not about agency size at all, small, medium, or large; the concepts pioneered in Milliken are equally applicable to big or small, and everything in between. The right question is whether this concept works for big, medium, or small police stations, and the innovation here is that it works best when designed for a neighborhood- oriented delivery model, and matches the size and scale of the neighborhood, whether in the smallest village or the largest city. Cities after all are just a series of neighborhoods.
What if we deployed America’s police officers to decentralized community police stations that anchor neighborhoods instead of what we effectively do now to consolidated patrol bases? The impulse over the last couple decades to create police storefronts and substations is part of the effort to make our officers neighborhood-based and take them closer to the community. But, the facilities generally are not safe, full-service 24/7 police stations, and they aren’t designed to project control over the neighborhood.
The sustainability discussion at the federal level has now gone beyond environmental and acknowledged that housing and transit are key if we’re to create walkable neighborhoods where people want to live and shop. One missing element is the neighborhood police station that contributes safety and security to the mix. Arguably, we have gone in the opposite direction pursuing efficiency in police services through the sometimes mistaken belief in consolidation. But we’re not making widgets. Real efficiency in policing is derived from a personal and sustained connection to the community that is more effective in generating local public safety and homeland security. Efficiency comes from harnessing the architectural power of the site and police building to generate an area of influence in the neighborhood. A transient officer in a patrol car can never be expected to provide that. In other words, our current service delivery model is mostly premised on taking services to the citizen by dispatching a patrol car. I’d argue lots of citizens don’t want police services brought to them; they will not seek help or offer information unless they can go to a 24/7 accessible, friendly neighborhood station. If we really believe in community policing, then we must put police in the community.
Perhaps the best way to understand why agency size itself is irrelevant is to look at Japan—the National Police Agency is huge, nearly 300,000 personnel, but they are deployed in 13,000 neighborhood kobans and chuzaisho—neighborhood street-level police stations.
Contact Jim at 970.660.5047 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1See Related Articles: All Welcomed to the New Milliken Police Station
and Building Community Policing from the Ground Up www.cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/april_2008/building_community.htm
- 2  Speech given on October 13, 2009, Coeur D’Alene, ID