Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Time for the Police to Step Up

How effective is our police department? The chief has often pointed to the rapid response time to calls for service as exceptional and he's probably right. The police do show up quickly when there is a call. It would be interesting to see measurements on how quickly and what type of calls they are responding to, but this quick response seems to be pretty consistent, so that's good.

But Public Safety is more than just response when something illegal or threatening happens. Good public safety also includes prevention and enhancement. In most cities, the role of the police includes active outreach to the community. Community policing means presence on the street, in the playgrounds and parks, and contact with the most vulnerable residents.

We don't have any of that.

Two years ago, the police chief summarily “suspended” the Police Activities League, the town's only program for teens and young adults without consultation with the board, the parents or the community. In spite of repeated requests, all we've heard is a vague “the chief is committed to the PAL” but no action, no action at all.

There is no community crime prevention. The police used to hold regular sessions with the residents to discuss ways that houses could be made more secure, address concerns about perceived or real problems and be in touch with the community by talking informally with residents. The police were usually the first to know about problems, not the last in a chain that finally leads to a crime response call.

There is no outreach to the elderly and the disabled, a critical service in many cities, particularly those cities prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes or flooding. If, really when, we have our next natural disaster, the police wouldn't even know where to look for residents most in need of help, the residents who are least able to call.

The excuse used for much of this are the budget constraints imposed in tight times and that's not unfair. But for years, the Law Enforcement Trust Fund has been used as a piggy bank to fund expensive vehicle purchases, pay for entertainments like the Seven Island Chief's Dinner, and other such expenses. Let's just look at the cars – high performance, forbidding looking vehicles obviously designed for a much more extensive geography which patrol our streets with the police hidden behind darkened windows. They look like something from a science fiction apocalyptic movie instead of a community police force.

The police could have spent less on the cars (I know we needed new ones) and used the money to create a registry of disabled residents to check up on.

Instead of the Seven Island's Chief's Dinner, a nondescript charity, the police could have created community education seminars on crime prevention.

The list goes on. It's not a question of the money, but rather how the PD decides to spend that money and so far, it's been spent on a lot of things that neither improve the life of the community or the environment of the police work force. In fact, from what several cops are telling me, it's a pretty grim place to work now.

Four stars on the quick response time, but that's only one measure among many for the effectiveness of public safety and on every important community measure – crime prevention, outreach, education – there is no effort at all. It's time to get serious about doing it right.

Kevin Vericker November 28, 2012

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