By Joseph C. Carter
s law enforcement officers, we are sworn to protect the citizens of our communities from all forms of crime. Yet there is little doubt that our greatest challenge is to protect our citizens from the horror of violent crime. Each of us has witnessed the devastation that violent crime brings to our communities and the lasting and often irreparable harm suffered by the victims and their families. Violent crime rates reflect, better than many other statistics, a community’s sense of safety.
|Chief Joseph C. Carter, Transit Police|
Department, Massachusetts Bay
That is why the recent rise in the violent crime rates in many U.S. communities is such a cause for concern. For the past 15 years, law enforcement agencies have made tremendous strides in reducing the level of crime and violence in the United States. Unfortunately, however, this trend appears to be changing.
Earlier this year, chiefs of police, mayors, and other government officials gathered to discuss the increasing trend in violence, particularly among young people. Conference participants offered different theories about why violent crime is increasing in their communities after years of often double-digit declines, but everyone in attendance agreed on one fact: no place is immune. What was once considered an urban problem—drug addiction and distribution, violent crime, gangs—has migrated to suburban and even rural locations as well. Simply put, this problem confronts us all.
There is no question that the increase in crime in America, violent and otherwise, corresponds to the substantial decline in funding for local and state law enforcement from the federal government. The result is that police departments have fewer officers today than they did in the late 1990s. The federal government has been focused on the reaction to terrorism, seemingly forgetting that effective local law enforcement agencies provide the first line of defense against terrorism. This must not continue. Congress and the administration must hear from the law enforcement community on this vital issue.
No organization is better suited or situated than IACP to give voice to the issues that have contributed to this problem. Consequently, I intend to marshal the resources of the association to make the voice of professional law enforcement heard on Capitol Hill on the issue of funding and crime. Increased involvement of our membership in communicating our concerns will ensure that our elected representatives know that we cannot effectively protect our communities and defend the homeland without more assistance from the federal government.
But we must also remember that while more funding and additional police officers are critically important to reverse the trend of increasing crime and violence, this alone is not the answer to the problem. We know how our communities benefit from improvements in education, housing, and family support services. In contrast, what we are now witnessing is the impact that failing educational and support services can have. Too many crimes are committed by undereducated kids who lack the support of parents who are themselves often without skills and without hope. The challenges of black-on-black crime, minority gang activity, and deteriorating family structures only add to the complexity of the challenges our communities face.
Additional police resources, both personnel and other funding, can make a substantial difference to the effectiveness of law enforcement. Equally important, however, is the policing strategy an agency adopts, from placing cops on the dots to decentralizing our organizations to developing street-smart tactics with community involvement. The IACP will continue its efforts to provide members with guidance on best practices in policing, and we all must strive to adopt these successful strategies.
We are entering a difficult period when resources supporting law enforcement initiatives are limited and when our lawmakers and federal executives are focused on homeland security, often to the detriment of effective local law enforcement. Our message must be clear: strong local law enforcement is the single best way to protect the homeland. We must ensure that the experience, the expertise, and the collective wisdom of the IACP membership are available to those officials who are seeking solutions. Over the past several weeks, the IACP met with officials from the White House and the Department of Justice to discuss the rise in violent crime and various proposals for addressing its causes. During these meetings, the IACP stressed that this problem is not limited to large metropolitan areas and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to combating violent crime.
We also stressed that our success in reducing crime over the last 15 years was only possible because leaders at all levels of government made fighting crime, in all its forms, a top priority. Years of effective, aggressive efforts by federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies have transformed our neighborhoods from places of fear to places of safety and security. However, we now stand at a crossroads. If our leaders choose to maintain this commitment to combating crime then we will to build upon our past success; if they do not, then we face a future of increasing crime rates and fear. It is our responsibility to help them make the right choice.