Who can unite Americans to heal the wounds of racism, crime, and gun violence? Will it be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or some other politician? Politicians have great ideas but they have limitations. Uniting Americans can be done with “We the People!”
In 1970, a suburban community of 17,500 residents lacked a local police department and had a CRIME PROBLEM. A committee of ten volunteers fought to get residents to attend community meetings to discuss how to stop crime in the neighborhood. As a pilot program, the volunteers developed a plan to help neighbors work together because most of their robberies were committed by local teens. Although the local newspaper supported the project, only a few people attended.
Community gatherings overflowed after a teenager discovered his mother murdered in his kitchen. Citizens were afraid and demanded more police protection. The county supervisor and the sheriff told residents they did not have funds for more police officers. The county’s pilot program began with the cooperation of the sheriff. An officer attended each neighborhood meeting to help educate residents about local crime and encourage neighbors to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Concerned citizens became involved in the “Neighborhood Responsibility Program.” In two and a half years, crime dropped by 48%. a) At the same time, crime was increasing in other communities.
Several committee members spoke on television and radio, while others became trainers and coordinators for the California State Office of Criminal Justice Planning.
To the surprise of seasoned volunteers, county police departments resisted citizen leaders declaring that they would become vigilantes. Volunteers were also told that citizen participation would not work in cities.
Naysayers were proven wrong when an organized group of citizens received a grant from the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning and formed the Contra Costa County Citizens Crime Prevention Committee, THAT. Without police leadership, six crime prevention coordinators organized and trained 27 volunteer committees across the county. The county committee worked independently of the police and had its own office and support staff. Coordinators worked in their assigned cities and met weekly to solve problems. They held monthly meetings with volunteers and published a county newsletter with achievements and projects to help people learn from each other. Citizen participation helped stop the spread of crime, drugs, gangs, and youth violence across the county.
The job of the police is to react to crime, while citizen participation can prevent crime. Over the years, many police departments worked with citizens. However, in the field of crime prevention, citizens without police leaders are rare. The training of citizen coordinators has many benefits. In areas where residents are too scared to share information with the police, they will speak to trusted citizen coordinators. Empowered 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 take more responsibility for city safety by helping to create a healthy balance between citizens and police. City leaders must support trained coordinators to prevent crime and corruption.
Encouraging and developing citizen leaders to help bring people together must be the highest priority in all cities. if we are going to stop hostility towards the police, racism, crime and gun violence.