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Community defense as police resources dwindle

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  • Fri, Mar 01, 2013 - 12:09am



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    Community defense as police resources dwindle

Here's a link to a post which discusses how neighbors are banding together in East Oakland, CA to patrol their own neighborhood to deter crime.  Police resources in their city have been dwindling and police response to the citizens's problems has been underwhelming.  The neighbors have been watching as crime gets worse and worse.  The residents believe they have to choose between doing nothing (and watching crime get worse and worse) or going out together to walk their neighborhood's streets to deter crime.

Having been a civilian in a big eastern city who got involved in similar efforts to deter crime and now having spent 13 years on our local police force, I have a few comments and observations this community might find helpful.  If nothing else, our discussion here should be helpful to those of us who find ourselves in similar situations in which we are caught in a rising tide of crime and wondering what to do about it.

1.  I have observed that in nearly all cases, communities organize to deter crime AFTER the crime rate becomes "unbearable" to a critical mass of neighbors.  Communities that have low crime rates almost never patrol their turf to deter crime, though a lot of communities (often at the urging of police departments) have some meetings and throw up some "Crime Watch" signs on utility poles.  Very rarely will low crime communities go to court in large numbers to communicate to judges that the case before them that day is extremely important to them.  I guess this is just human nature.  Who wants to devote their valuable time to crime prevention if crime doesn't seem like an urgent problem RIGHT NOW?  So as much as you might like to organize neighborhood patrols to keep crime from getting to be a big problem in your low crime community, I doubt you will be successful in recruiting like-minded folks.  Probably, the best thing to do is to network with as many neighbors as possible and be ready to advocate for getting organized to deter crime when events cause your neighbors to become concerned and alarmed.

2.  Neighborhood patrols are actually quite effective in detering many types of crime, including: auto theft, theft from auto, burglary, robbery and vandalism (especially graffiti vandalism).  Furthermore, these patrols are usually much more effective than the police department's best efforts when not combined with neighborhood patrols.  My center city civilian urban patrol was so successful after about 15 months the crime rate fell so much everybody quit the patrol!  And this was after the police could not put a dent in the crime rate by themselves.  Of course, the crime rate slowly began to rise again after our patrols fell apart, but it has never gotten as bad as it was in 1989 – 90.  In fact, it has never gotten bad enough for the neighbors to reorganize and resume patrols (despite my advocacy for that several years later). Never underestimate how much of a deterrent effect neighborhood patrols can have!

3.  It is incredibly rare for members of neighborhood crime patrols to become the victims of crime themselves while on patrol.  It is MUCH more likely that the same community members will be victimized living in a community without the patrols than while on patrol.  (Of course, the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident in Florida is a glaring exception.)  And the effectiveness of patrols and the safety of being a civilian on patrol is in spite of the fact that nearly all neighbors on patrol are unarmed and don't look physically intimidating.

4.  That being said, I never went on patrol as a civilian without my 5 shot revolver and concealed carry permit.  Actually, I never went anywhere without them.  However, none of my partners knew I was armed and they certainly weren't.  While on patrol, I never had one single situation where I was concerned for my safety or thought that I might have to use my revolver.  On the other hand, there were many instances when I was in the neighborhood alone (not on patrol) and felt threatened and glad I was armed.  There was also one incident where I had to shoot a robber who tried to rob me point of gun.

I hope you're community's crime rate never gets so bad the neighbors feel compelled to organize their own patrols.  But if that's what happens, have confidence that you can have big effects on crime.


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