Community safety is not the sole responsibility of the men and women in blue but rather a duty that is incumbent on all of us. As a law enforcement officer and Executive Director of the Community Safety Institute I have had the great fortune of being able to travel all throughout this great country of ours. I’ve been to the largest cities and the smallest communities and although we are as diverse as one might expect when it comes to community safety it amazes me how similar we really are. Across the country citizens just like you all want the same thing. We want to be safe and secure in our homes and our neighborhoods.
Allow me to share with you my formula for community safety. It is simple, successful and user friendly.
Proactive Law Enforcement + Community Mobilization = Community Safety
Proactive Law Enforcement – Actively engages the community and seeks to minimize victimization… seeks out opportunities to share (receive and give) information to the community
In our downtown business district we developed an e-mail and text system where business owners could contact me directly about crimes that had occurred, suspects, or even suspicious persons in their stores at the moment. The system was great because it was a non-intrusive. Where they would not have picked up the phone and called 911 they would shoot off an e-mail or text message from their phone, computer or PDA. They were engaged and the criminals paid the price. On one occasion I caught two robbers loading their weapons in the parking of a 7-11, we arrested them for a number of violations and didn’t wait until they robbed the store or killed someone before moving in. We minimized victimization, averted a major crime and still placed the bad guys behind bars.
That’s proactive law enforcement, engaging the community, minimizing victimization and taking every opportunity possible to share information with the community. Now, let’s turn our attention to what most of you are here for the community mobilization side of this successful formula….
Community Mobilization – Citizens taking an active role in protecting their community. Now, I’m not necessarily endorsing Citizens on Patrol although there are many great volunteer programs out there but any activity that brings law enforcement and citizens together to fight crime. This could be participating in a Neighborhood Watch group or volunteering with at–risk children in the community.
Another law enforcement truism I have learned over the past quarter century in policing is that we will never have enough cops. Throughout the entire country with over 300 million people to protect we have less than 1 million first responders, that’s police, fire, ems, everyone. No matter what government program they roll out we will never have a cop on every corner and quite frankly I’m not sure I want more.
Citizens not only have to take responsibility for their actions but also for their safety. That’s why crime prevention and knowledge about personal safety is so important. Don’t place yourself in circumstances where you will be the victim. Be aware of your surroundings and take all of those crime prevention measures that your police department has been suggesting for all of these years, whether it is shop in groups during the holidays, walk with your keys in your hand and stay in well lighted parking areas or always lock your doors and garage each time you leave your house you will be less likely to become a victim of crime.
I had one Florida police chief tell me one time if he could just get his citizens to close and lock their garages wherever they were not in use then his property crime rate which by the way accounted for 90% of all crime in his senior citizen community would fall by over 60%. That’s it just closing and locking the garage when not in use is one proactive form of community mobilization. Other aspects of community mobilization include: engaged citizens, shared vision and goals, partnership oriented and an organized leadership team that inspires others.
Engaged citizens – Do something, don’t just sit there. It is your community. Yes the police are paid to protect and serve but as we discussed they can’t be everywhere all of the time and have limited resources. As citizens working together we have almost unlimited resources, whether it is time, talent, money, personnel, expertise, etc…. Volunteer even one hour a week to play a proactive role in protecting or serving your community… update your neighborhood phone or e-mail list, work on a neighborhood clean-up or be even more innovative. One citizen I know took it upon herself to call the cable company after seeing cable installers in her neighborhood and developed a special class for their employees on observation skills and reporting so there would be just that many more eyes and ears out in the community during the day protecting homes. It didn’t cost a thing just a little time and a commitment from the cable company.
Shared vision and goals – The second characteristic of community mobilization is a shared vision of the future, whether that future is next month or next year. I have travelled the country, been to every state, most multiple times and discovered we as citizens have more in common than different. We all want a safe community where we can raise our children and not live in fear of victimization.
Partnership oriented – Just as the police cannot do it alone often communities must come together, form partnerships with other neighborhoods, business groups or as I love to say those civic, social and service organizations that play such an important role in our communities.
Organized leadership team that inspires others to action - Individual volunteers are great and sorely needed but when group become organized and leaders emerge you can attain amazing results in your neighborhood.
It really is simple… become actively involved in working with law enforcement to improve the safety in the community, security and quality of life.