Counterinsurgency Cops: Military tactics fight street crime

Tactics used overseas in the war on terror are helping law enforcement take back the streets of Springfield, Mass., from criminal gangs

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The following is a script from "Counterinsurgency Cops" which aired on May 5, 2013. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Andrew Metz, producer.

In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers have been waging what's known as counterinsurgency. They're supposed to be both warriors and community builders, going village to village driving out insurgents while winning the hearts and minds of the population. But counterinsurgency has had mixed results - at best.

We met a Green Beret who is finding out -- in his job as a police officer -- that the strategy might actually have a better chance of working, right here at home, in the USA.

Call him and his fellow officers counterinsurgency cops! They're not fighting al Qaeda or the Taliban, but street gangs and drug dealers in one of the most crime ridden cities in New England.

[Mike Cutone: Turning now, turning now on Orchard.]

Mike Cutone is a Massachusetts state trooper, part of a special unit targeting gang crime in the city of Springfield.

[Mike Cutone: Put your hands behind your back, stop resisting! Read him his rights in Spanish. Get the gun?]

He's also a Green Beret, who - after returning from Iraq - had an "aha moment" when he was talking to a gas station manager in Springfield.

Mike Cutone: Gang members would come in there, pull out a weapon, point it at employees or patrons, take what they want and walk out. No one was calling the Springfield Police and no one was calling the state police.

Lesley Stahl: What this community was dealing with was gangs. They are a criminal enterprise. How are they like insurgents in Iraq?

Mike Cutone: Insurgents and gang members both want to operate in a failed area, a failed community or a failed state. They know they can live off the passive support of the community, where the community is not going to call or engage the local police.

The similarities to the Iraqi town he had lived in and defended were so striking, that he sat down and wrote out an action plan for Springfield.

Mike Cutone: We had this concept of what we would call a pilot team, where you would handpick select troopers, give them specific training and embed them in the community and start winning over the community.

He proposed his plan, a counterinsurgency program, to Springfield's deputy police chief, John Barbieri.

Lesley Stahl: But he was saying he was going to bring military tactics into an American city. I mean, you must have had some qualms about that.

John Barbieri: Well once it became clear that he wasn't talking about checkpoints or fast roping from helicopters, that he was talking about going door to door organizing the neighborhood into a collaboration to report crime, to get involved in solving their own problems, it became obvious to me that that was exactly the type of program I needed for this neighborhood.

Barbieri and trooper Cutone took us to a housing project in that neighborhood, known as the North End.

Lesley Stahl: I heard that there were gang members on motorcycles with AK-47s on their backs, right out here-

John Barbieri: They were very well-organized. They had lookouts. They disappeared when the sector cars came.

Lesley Stahl: They were just riding right up here in front?

John Barbieri: They were establishing the fact that this was their territory and they were willing to fight to keep it.