Healthy Neighborhoods

What does "Public Safety" look like?

The prevailing notion is that public safety depends on how many police officers you have relative to the population, and, the more officers, the more safe.

Yet, professors of criminology, criminal justice and even several police chiefs have all agreed that such a correlation has never been established. While it has been shown that 'police presence' does tend to reduce certain kinds of criminal activity, like car-jackings and commercial robberies, there is far less evidence to show that increased numbers of police officers leads to a reduction in violent crimes and/or homicides.

The idea of being 'tough on crime' requires massive local budget allocations that often result in other municipal programs being cut. In Oakland, the police budget is more than 50% of the general fund -- and that doesn't even include the millions spent on police misconduct law suits every year.

The question should be: are we getting our money's worth? Is this overwhelming capitalization of the police force making Oakland safer? Better? Even when we had hundreds more officers a few years ago, did people feel safe? Was Oakland believed to be a safe city?

It's time to take a different approach to public safety, and what makes communities safe.

To say we have community policing may be comforting, but what does it really mean, in practice? ‘Problem solving' is, in many cases, simply a euphemism for arresting. Every year, the police roust young men of color-either hanging out on their street, in their driveways, or driving -- often impound their cars, and then release them 24-48 hours later. They return to the same street they were picked up on. So, the tow company clearly benefis, and probably the police department, too. But how has the community benefited, and how was the 'problem' solved? And is this a wise use of police resources that promotes safe communities?

We need to turn away from this enormously expensive and ineffective approach to creating safety.. We need to learn different strategies to bring resources to identified problems -- to bring services, counseling, and perhaps most important - to bring jobs! If folks can't survive by legal means, there is only one alternative. If kids are not in school, let's find out why and create opportunities for better choices.

Nobody is defending crime, or criminals. But it's time to adopt sensible and strategies, like those found in restorative justice, that have been proven successful in other places. With this approach, offenders provide restitution to the community that they have harmed, rather than be imprisoned, which brings about real, lasting solutions to problems, instead of quick fixes that come back to bite us. Restorative justice is far less expensive than incarceration, allowing public funds to be used for programs that support quality of life programs, and also reduces recidivism rates dramatically.

Literally, we cannot afford to keep funding 'tough on crime' scenarios that serve primarily to provide six figure salaries and amazingly lucrative benefits to a special interest group -- the brothers in blue. -- especially when such expenditures deprive our community of resources needed to address pressing community needs, among them, staggering unemployment.

For more on this subject read theOakland Tribune article: Opinions Shifting on Why Crimes like Homicide Happen and How to Deal with It

Created: 04-01-2011

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