Who can bring Americans together to heal the wounds of racism, crime and gun violence? Will it be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or some other politician? Politicians have big ideas but they have limitations. Bringing Americans together can be accomplished by, “We the People!”
In 1970, a suburban community of 17,500 residents lacked a local police department and they had a CRIME PROBLEM. A committee of ten volunteers struggled to get residents to attend community meetings to discuss how to stop neighborhood crime. As a pilot program, volunteers developed a plan to help neighbors work together because most of their burglaries were committed by local teens. Although the local newspaper supported the project, only a few people attended.
Community meetings were overflowing after a teenager discovered his mother murdered in her kitchen. Citizens were fearful and turned out to demand more police protection. The county supervisor and sheriff told residents they lacked the funds for more police. The pilot program began with the cooperation from the county sheriff. An officer would attend every neighborhood meeting to help educate residents about local crime and encourage neighbors to be on the alert for suspicious activities. Concerned citizens got involved in the “Neighborhood Responsibility Program.” Within two and a half years, crime was reduced 48%. (a) At the same time, crime was on the increase in other communities.
Several committee members spoke on TV and radio while others went on to became trainers and coordinators for the California State Office of Criminal Justice Planning.
Much to the surprise of experienced volunteers, county police departments resisted citizen leaders stating, they would become vigilantes. The volunteers were also told that citizen involvement wouldn’t work in cities.
The naysayers were proven wrong when an organized group of citizens received a grant from the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning and formed the Citizen’s Crime Prevention Committee of Contra Costa County, CA. Without police leadership, six crime prevention coordinators organized and trained 27 volunteer committees throughout the county. The county committee worked independently of police and had their own office and staff support. Coordinators worked in their assigned cities and met weekly with each other to problem solve. They held monthly meetings with volunteers and published a county newsletter with accomplishments and projects to help people learn from each other. Citizen involvement helped stop the spread of crime, drugs, gangs and juvenile violence throughout the county.
The job of police is to react to crime while citizen involvement can prevent crime. Over the years, many police departments worked with citizens. However, in the field of crime prevention, citizens without police leaders are uncommon. There are many benefits for training citizen coordinators. In areas where residents are too scared to share information with police, they will talk to trusted citizen coordinators. Trained citizens have the ability to educate and change attitudes within their neighborhoods where they speak the language and care about families and youth.
Today, cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, Chicago and Detroit need citizen leaders to assume more responsibility for city safety by helping create a healthy balance between citizens and police. City leaders need to support trained coordinators to prevent crime and corruption.
Encouraging and developing citizen leaders to help bring people together should be top priority in every city if we are going to stop hostility toward police, racism, crime and gun violence.
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