By Ron Francis and Jeff Wamboldt, Crime Prevention Officers, Kenosha, Wisconsin, Police Department
ntil 2005, planning the crime prevention activities in Kenosha was the responsibility of two school resource officers as a part-time function. Their crime prevention responsibilities included running the neighborhood watch and adult safety education programs, writing grants for crime prevention funding, attending festivals and business expositions as public relations ambassadors, and managing several projects to address problems in a given neighborhood that regular patrol activities could not effectively address. Most of the projects involved small-time drug houses, ongoing neighbor disputes, irresponsible businesses in residential neighborhoods, landlord tenant disputes, and absentee or slum landlord problems.
The Change Agents
Two incidents changed Kenosha’s crime prevention efforts from a part-time activity to a full-time assignment.
Gang Behavior: The first incident happened at a community meeting initiated by two city aldermen and held in a small local tavern attended by the authors, representing the police department, and the city’s building inspector. Over 50 residents were venting their frustrations about gang members terrorizing their neighborhood, bullying and intimidating residents.
After the meeting, officers visited the identified problem house and spoke to the gang members, letting them know that their bullying activities were no longer going to be tolerated. In addition, this visit revealed property standards violations. Officers notified the Department of Neighborhood Services and Inspections responsible for enforcing property standards. Since this was a rental property, the property owner was reminded that issues coming from this property could lead to fines.
The next morning, officers visited the problem house again and spoke to the bullying juveniles’ mother, ensuring she was aware of the community problem her children were creating. The police department also assigned a special patrol for the area, and the officers took a zero-tolerance stance to any violations. Complaints ceased.
Adult Bully: The second incident involved an adult bully running an auto repair shop out of his residential garage. The noise from sanding and painting cars, along with his excessive late-night partying, became unbearable to the neighbors. When the neighbors complained directly, he intimidated them with his muscles and his tattoos. Neighbors became so afraid they would not sign complaints or even call the police.
Citizens informed the area alderman about this problem, who visited the residential garage to discuss the neighbors’ complaints. The adult bully then directed his anger toward the alderman. The alderman responded by filing charges against the bully including a stalking charge. While the stalking charge was reduced to disorderly conduct, the bully had already moved out of the neighborhood, so the residents could quietly enjoy their neighborhood again.
Establishing the Crime Prevention Unit
Recognizing that underlining community issues could not be resolved by officers assigned to other duties, Kenosha established a crime prevention unit and assigned two officers to it. Its objective was to assist patrol and investigations solve problems and close cases.
In Kenosha, the crime prevention unit accomplishes its mission by the following:
- Using the neighborhood watch program to obtain useful information exposes hot spots, crime patterns, and individuals of interest.
- Using resources to put an end to ongoing problems reduces the number of calls that require officer intervention and frees up patrol time, giving officers more time to be proactive.
- Teaching citizens how to contact the police and showing them what information is needed save officers time and, possibly, their lives.
- Acting as liaisons for Neighborhood Watch participants along with public relation events gives the department a human face and improves relationships between the police and the citizens.
- Obtaining and using grant money and other donations to fund programs allow the department to use budgeted funds for other needed activities.
In Kenosha, the crime prevention unit’s mission is to solve problems. By using all resources—city agencies, social services, the fire department, power companies, and landlords—the police crime prevention effort builds a sense of partnership with other city and community agencies.
This is good old-fashioned police work: police work that is visible, that is out on the street knocking on doors, and that is out of the squad car talking to people. It is proactive work, involving stops of suspicious people and investigation of suspicious activity. It is police work that recognizes the importance of community input and involves officers trying to solve community problems even if they are not criminal in nature.
For any crime prevention unit to succeed, it must have the support of the police chief, the administration, the city leaders, the community, and, most important, the patrol officers and detectives in the department. All of these people must believe that solving quality-of-life issues and crime prevention are important. They must believe it is a valuable deployment of resources to attack and solve these problems. They must feel the crime prevention unit is of value to them.
In Kenosha, the police chief, the city leaders, and the citizens are committed to crime prevention. In the last four years, the neighborhood watch program has grown from 55 watches to well over 100. Citizens are involved in crime prevention and report their observations. The call volume is up to nearly 100,000 calls for service per year, a 7,000-call increase from 2007 to 2008.
These statistics illustrate the community’s commitment to being proactive and getting involved. Today’s citizens are calling the police, reporting suspicious activity, and signing complaints. In 2008, this commitment caused a 14 percent decrease in crime in Kenosha over 2007, and Chief John Morrissey credits this community involvement with the decrease in crime.
No matter what a crime prevention unit is called, it requires the proper tools—resources and support—from the police chief, department leaders, and the city council. The patrol and investigative divisions must support it. With these tools, a crime prevention unit puts the responsibility for preventing crime back in the hands of everyone, where it belongs. ■