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Stay vigilant as crime rises
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People from throughout the community have been asking me what is going to happen to their safety and quality of life as the state, county and city budgets suffer funding cutbacks. This all seems to be happening at a time when police officers all over the state are being been laid off, prisoners are being released early from the corrections system (with more poised to hit the streets en masse without any kind of supervision), and

county district attorneys are unable to prosecute as many criminals as they would like to - all owing to staffing reductions caused by the budget crisis. This means that there will be fewer police, more criminals and a marginalized criminal justice system to deal with the problems that are evolving right now. Criminals presently behind bars and those who are committing crime are surely rejoicing.

All of this is happening because of this country's recession/depression that has left millions of people unemployed -- some of whom have resorted to crime in order to make ends meet. In my 36 years of law enforcement experience, I have never seen such difficult societal or economic circumstances. The situation we face is extraordinary.

We can reasonably expect crimes of all types to increase. Thefts, in particular, are already on the upswing. There will be more instances of fraud schemes, more bounced checks, more shoplifting, insurance fraud, and even more instances of identity theft. The increased homeless population will also place a heavy burden on communities in term of social services needs, and some of these homeless people may also contribute to the spike in property crimes. The list of impacts from the situation we are now in is lengthy, and the circumstances plaguing our communities reach far beyond law enforcement. They will also affect local fire departments, as more people will rely on the fire/emergency medical system to provide the basic care that really should be handled by the medical community.

The economic situation we are in has no ready solutions. In fact, things may get worse, depending on what happens to the economy at the national and international level. Given the unclear economic signals we are seeing daily, chances are that they will get worse before they get better. Even if the economy surprises us with a quick turn-around, the state and local governments will not rebound as quickly. Chances are that law enforcement, jails, the prison system, prosecuting agencies, etc., will take much more time to return to "normal" levels of funding. I should add that a shrinking government is not all bad, as there are always excesses that can, and should, be eliminated. When this current economic crisis is over, government (at the state and local levels), at least in theory, should be smaller and have become more efficient.

In the case of local law enforcement agencies, the situation we are now in will require us to further increase efficiency, and find new, creative ways to deal with crime problems. But just arresting criminals cannot be enough to really reduce crime, especially since the rest of the system (jail, prosecutions) has funding problems. In other words, we can arrest a bunch of criminals, but the lower-level offenders will likely end up with little or no punishment and then get caught up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. These evolving crime problems are significant and complex and the solutions are not easily found.

Prevention is the most logical and readily available solution to the crime situation. Prevention is especially effective insofar as property crimes are concerned. Most property crimes fall into the category of "crimes of opportunity." In other words, people who leave their homes unlocked, windows open, keys in cars, bicycles on front lawns, garage doors open at night and the like are providing crooks an easy opportunity for theft. Therefore, it is important to lock and secure all of your possessions. This extra vigilance may be an inconvenience, but the extra effort of securing these things will be worth the trouble.

Even more important is that the neighborhoods in our community become more tight-knit again, as they were many years ago. Neighbors looking out for each other is the key to community safety. Frankly, a cohesive neighborhood is far more effective than random police patrols in terms of suppression or prevention of crime. By keeping an eye out for suspicious persons, reminding neighbors to close their garage doors, and secure their cars or other property, there will be a great improvement of neighborhood safety as compared to now.

These state and local budget difficulties come at a bad time, but there is no reason to allow the criminal element to gain a stronger foothold in our communities. We can do it by working in unified fashion between you and your neighbors, and the community with the police department.