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The way a community fights crime will depend on many different things. A small rural community with very little criminal activity will handle things much differently than a large metropolitan area. While the basic premise will always be the same, the amount of funding, training, and manpower that each one has access to will be dramatically different. Another huge factor is the core values of the residents who live within the community.
Statistics show that one percent of the population is responsible for the majority of the most violent crimes. Knowing where this one percent can be found and what activities they participate in will help law enforcement agencies develop stronger crime fighting strategies. In addition to isolating this group, police officers must always remain vigilant and aware of how they conduct themselves. With so many people trying to find ways to de-fund or minimize the authority of law enforcement officers, they must always appear as transparent and compassionate as possible.
Location Is Always a Factor
Crime prevention is much easier in smaller communities where everyone knows one another or is at least familiar with who they are. Cities like New York and Los Angeles have millions of residents. This makes it almost impossible for everyone to get to know their neighbors. Gun crime and violent offenses are much more common because it is much easier for criminals to get lost in the sea of humanity. Community members try to come together and work with one another, but it can be difficult when you are dealing with such large numbers of people.
Smaller communities may have a higher number of misdemeanor arrests, but in most cases, the offender won’t repeat their crime a second time. There will always be a few repeat offenders no matter where you are, but law enforcement agencies become familiar with many of those individuals and try to be proactive in an attempt to keep the person on the straight and narrow.
One Community, One Strategy
Every community is different in how it handles crime. Community policing methods will vary based on the amount of funding a department has. It will depend on how well-trained police officers are and what resources they have available to them. Preventive patrol is one strategy that works well in small communities as well as large cities. A visible police presence gives warning to potential criminals that officers are active in the area. The strategy that works for one community may not work for others.
A community’s crime rate is dependent on how well the citizens work with police officers. Everyone wants a police officer close by when public safety is threatened. Smaller communities tend to welcome officers into their neighborhoods, while larger communities may take an overt police presence as an intrusion. Keeping lines of communication open is the key to positive interaction between LEOs and the community at large.
Knowing What Works
Over time, communities begin to realize what works and what doesn’t. Smaller communities see patterns rather quickly and can begin to develop plans that allow them to stay ahead of the problem. Larger cities and communities may identify criminal activities quickly, but coming up with a plan of action may take a bit longer. Taking strategies that have worked in the past and adjusting them to account for new variables will allow for greater success.
Local law enforcement and state law enforcement leaders must sometimes come together to compare notes, and in many cases, join forces to handle violent crime activities that cover a much larger area than just one community. The criminal justice system offers a large number of resources that will help local, state, and national law enforcement agencies work together more efficiently. At the state level, the Attorney General may also be able to provide assistance when it comes to resolving certain issues.
Diversion or court disposal is a very swift and effective way to deal with a first-time offender. Once the offender admits their guilt, they are immediately dealt with by police. They do not have to wait on a court date. In most cases, they will do no jail time. They may be required to agree to a probationary period where they will report to an officer on a regular basis and complete any activities deemed necessary. This will often include paying restitution and performing community service.
Once a pre-trial diversion is agreed to, the offender must agree to not commit any further illegal acts during a specific period of time. Once the time period has passed, the arrest will be expunged or removed from their record, giving them a clean slate. Diversions are often offered to offenders who have been charged with misdemeanors involving drugs, substance abuse, mental health issues, and other minor crimes. Some researchers consider it a teaching or learning tool and believe it to be quite effective.
Focused deterrence involves targeting specific groups of offenders. Organized crime members and gangs, as well as their affiliates are commonly included in this group. In may cases, this includes gun-related crimes and criminal activity that involves the sale and distribution of stolen merchandise and drugs. In this particular model, individuals who are arrested or brought into the police station are given a firm warning that violence of any kind, including gun violence will result in immediate consequences.
While this may only slow down the hardened criminals in the group, it may give those who are just entering that lifestyle enough pause to get them to change their ways and move away from the criminal activities. In tight-knit communities where neighbors come together in the name of public safety, focused deterrence is able to use this friendly force to dissuade individuals from committing any further criminal acts. Both the Chicago Police Department and New York Police Department have been known to use similar strategies.
Approximately 2/3 of the time an officer is in training is spent on teaching appropriate use of force and other policing activities. The amount of time they spend learning about mediation, social work and active “friendly” community engagement can be as little as 10%, sometimes even less. Interacting with members of the community in a friendly and social manner is essential if a law enforcement officer is to be trusted and valued by the citizens they serve.
Problem-oriented policing deals mostly with neutralizing situations that are already in progress. Establishing a more proactive strategy where everyone is working together is the best crime prevention tool you have. Although it will not stop every crime from occurring, it will decrease the amount of illegal activity and help build trust and respect within the community. Police officers must be visible and available at all times, even when no criminal activity has been reported. Peaceful presence within the community is a must.
Building Community Relations
The best way to build a positive relationship with the public is to interact with them in their own neighborhoods. In Gainesville, Florida, several police officers were called to an area where several “rowdy teenagers” were hanging out. What they found changed their lives as well as those of the teen boys. The boys were playing basketball around a hoop on the side of the street. Instead of asking the boys to disperse, the officers joined in and began to play with them. This simple act not only established trust, it began to build a solid relationship between the two groups. The Basketball Cop Foundation grew from that interaction and is continuing to change lives today.
There are many other ways to build strong community relationships between police officers and those they serve. Making it a point to stop and talk to people when officers are out on patrol. Visit schools and work with organizations like the Boy/Girl Scouts. Give short lectures on safety and how kids can protect themselves and their families if an emergency arises.
One of the best ways for a police agency to remain effective at fighting crime is to offer training seminars and continuing education courses to all of the policemen and women in your department. Encourage your officers to return to school and earn a criminal justice or forensics degree. Make sure they take a few courses in social interaction and mediation as well. Any learning tool they are able to take advantage of will provide them with the skills they need to be more efficient at their job.
Sharing What Works
Whenever a law enforcement agency or police department comes across a crime fighting strategy that is effective, it should be documented and shared with other organizations. It may not be perfect for every community, but it can be adapted so that it is more effective and easy to use.
In the United States, we are known for unity. Law enforcement officers walk a thin blue line. If everyone works together, we can find the right crime-fighting solutions. If we truly want to prevent crime, citizens and law enforcement officers have to come together on a unified front and help one another find the right solution for every community.