November 25, 1997 in City

Community-Based Response To Crime Is Paying Off

Cheryl Steele Special To Roundtable
 

As program coordinator for Spokane C.O.P.S., I have had the opportunity to share our success with many agencies and neighborhood groups across America.

In Boston recently to give a presentation, I noticed that all the rumors I’d heard about crime and visual social decay in that city were not true. This prompted me to do some door-knocking and talk with the residents.

Three years ago, the stories I’d heard were true, the citizens told me. Boston had been losing one to three youths under the age of 17 per week to violent death.

But the people I talked to said things have changed dramatically. When the police department, city government and the media put the statistics out, the public took control of the issue.

At the time of my visit it had been 26 months since Boston had lost a child under age 17 to a violent death.

I talked with a 66-year-old woman in the Boston Commons who Rollerblades in the park every day and talks with the people. She said she has never felt safer than she does now.

When I asked why, she said, “Because the police are helping us, talking to us and we are working with them to take control of our city.”

From Boston I went to Washington, D.C., to attend a conference sponsored by the C.O.P.S. office for our Regional Community Policing Institute.

I had been in this beautiful city 22 months earlier and was very scared. A police officer had been shot and killed outside my hotel hours before I arrived. I was saddened at what I was seeing on a daily basis as I strolled the city’s streets.

At that time, people were not talking. It all seemed so rushed, cold and closed.

But on my more recent visit, the atmosphere in the nation’s capital was very different. After the conference, I visited all the same streets I had visited before because I could not believe the changes.

I knocked on doors, talked with business owners and finally, as a test of my own conclusions, asked cab drivers.

Everyone said the same things: The police have helped us take control and make changes. We have changed and it feels great. Rarely do we see crime right before our eyes.

Two years ago, it was unusual not to see crime right before your eyes. Back then, we walked away out of fear. We don’t do that anymore because we have the support we need to help the police change.

Even the cab drivers said their new relationships with the police and having access to a special phone number have made a difference in their willingness to report crime and participate in “prevention” plans as they drive the city. They told me that in only two parts of the city is crime still commonly seen, and those areas are working for changes, too.

In July, I talked with several grass roots groups in Iowa. They were working together with the state corrections department and local public safety officials to form what they call “community justice.” They, too, felt safer and were very willing to help, given the recent data about crime in Iowa.

The citizens of the Shoreline, Wash., also agreed that “community” forms of government and policing are making a difference in their ability to participate and their feelings of safety.

When I returned to Spokane, I felt so proud of my community, our volunteers, our police department, government and media. We have blazed the trail for partnerships and community policing.

I realize our work in Spokane has become part of a common thread that extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. I know now that is because, as the data-driven era arises, data are being used in a positive manner. As systems release their need to hold information and share with the public, we become more aware and willing to make changes.

We know this works because in Spokane, when Nikki Woods and Rebecca West were abducted in 1991, citizens took the lead in seeking answers as to why this could happen in our community. We learned why and began to ask more questions.

As our questions were answered with data not consistent with what we want for our quality of life, we worked with local government, police, social and service agencies, schools, churches, military, fire organizations and businesses to force change.

It’s working. Statistically, we know that it is. But most importantly, we feel that ours is a healthier community.

Now, other cities are actively pursuing models of community policing, community government and community justice, forcing changes and seeing crime statistics fall.

xxxx


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email