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Back to Archives | Back to March 2004 Contents 

Crime Prevention: Are We Missing the Mark?

By Chief Julian Fantino, Chief of Police, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


According to the IACP Crime Prevention Committee's Towards 2000 and Beyond, "Community safety is everyone's responsibility and crime prevention is everyone's business." This statement reflects the understanding that strategic partnerships working diligently towards a community-based shared responsibility can prevent crime. The intention of such a plan is to create safe communities, from the corporate sector right down to the local neighborhood level, by empowering the community to play an active role in crime reduction initiatives.

Community Mobilization
Community-based crime prevention programs are also the foundation of an effective community policing model. The challenge faced by most police agencies is developing and sustaining these partnerships. Successful and meaningful partnerships require strong and committed leadership from every person who has a responsibility for public safety and the maintenance of the quality of life available to all citizens. At the center of the process is the need to identify and bring critical stakeholders from the disciplines of justice, education, health, social services, and urban planning together with community organizations, political leaders, and citizens.

A multiagency response is required in order to ensure that all environmental and sociological factors that contribute to the existence of crime in a neighborhood are identified and effectively addressed. When all the appropriate agencies are working together toward a common goal, the end result is sure to be community mobilization in its truest sense.

The most recognized and successful community crime prevention initiative in North America is the Neighborhood Watch Program. In most cases this program is driven by the community and supported by the local policing agency. Crime prevention programs that follow this service delivery model have a greater opportunity for success and longevity than those driven and administered solely by the police. The Neighborhood Watch Program was born more than 25 years ago and has endured the test of time. It stands today as an example of what can be accomplished when police agencies and the community partner for a common cause.

Leadership Brings Success
In order for crime prevention programs to succeed, strong, visionary, and committed leadership is crucial. This type of critical leadership must come from within the ranks of the partnership and include both police representatives and community advocates. Focused leadership can be the catalyst to set in motion a rigorous and well-organized proactive process diagnosing problems and root causes, developing a corrective strategy, and implementing an action plan, with modifications if needed, to achieve the desired results.

Obviously, an effective crime prevention strategy must be focused on addressing the three fundamental factors that contribute to the commission of a crime: the target, an opportunity, and the perpetrator. Flexible crime prevention strategies that are customized to meet the needs of the community and have regard for the conditions that exist in that community have the greatest opportunity to succeed. Police agencies should also give due consideration to the full spectrum of initiatives available from education programs designed to protect children to intelligence-driven enforcement.

One of the keys to successful long-term crime prevention strategies is identifying the resources available and then utilizing these resources to the fullest extent. The effectiveness of crime prevention concepts and initiatives can be elevated significantly by simply embracing the importance of introducing volunteers to the program. Volunteers are the strong threads that help bind communities together. In addition to a willingness to get involved, volunteers also possess a high level of enthusiasm, an unselfish attitude, and a desire to make a meaningful contribution to the community. However, in many respects, their contribution to the community and the police agency is not fully realized or appreciated. Perhaps the most overlooked volunteer resource available is members of the auxiliary police. When properly trained and supervised, these community-spirited citizens can be the ambassadors of community crime prevention programs and an effective link between the community and the police.

After September 11, 2001
In the post-September 11 climate of apprehension and fear about the threat of terrorism, police agencies at all levels must develop strategies and environments that suppress crime and prevent terrorism from flourishing. The prevention of crime is the primary function and goal of law enforcement agencies. In reality, when the opportunity for crime to occur is recognized and appropriate steps are implemented to remove or reduce the risk, crime and other forms of security risks are prevented. Effective crime prevention is also effective terrorism prevention.

Be it crime prevention or terrorism prevention, responsibility for public safety and the maintenance of law and order rest, for the most part, upon the shoulders of the local policing authorities. In a time of reduced frontline resources, all police services need to look toward the community to increase their arsenal of eyes and ears on the street and encourage the proactive reporting of suspicious persons and activities.

Communication and public education are also important components of an effective crime prevention initiative. The development of strategic community-based information networks is essential.

The post-September 11, 2001, era has substantially compounded the uncertainty for police, political leaders and communities as a whole. Debate centres on how to best manage an effective crime prevention response that in today's reality must also include terrorism prevention. This particular aspect of public safety remains an ongoing concern and priority for law enforcement leaders worldwide.

According to the views of the IACP Crime Prevention Committee, "crime prevention and community safety is a key component of homeland security," a reality that also requires a community-based response. Cultivating effective prevention partnerships will be necessary in order to achieve the difficult public safety demands faced in today's perilous world. One of the primary difficulties in sustaining community support and enthusiasm for crime prevention programs is the challenge of measuring and qualifying the impact of the programs on crime itself. If the existing level of community support and participation cannot be maintained, the likelihood of program failure increases significantly.

Police agencies are the most visible first responders to issues relating to public safety. It is generally acknowledged that law enforcement officials are now confronting enforcement and prevention responsibilities never imagined a few years ago. As the world changes, so do the challenges facing police leaders. In the forefront are the difficulties faced in determining the operative strategic direction to best utilize limited resources in the most effective manner. These challenges are made all the more difficult by a noticeable absence of external training in the areas of program development, risk management, terrorism detection, crime suppression techniques, and available resources. In years gone by, the criteria used to select crime prevention or community education officers have been based on years of police service and experience. Very rarely did these officers possess specialized training in the field of program development and community mobilization. The current state of world affairs dictates that police leaders lobby for increased training in these areas to maintain the interest and participation of the community in such programs and also ensure their success.

Crime Prevention Survey
In order to further the mission of the Crime Prevention Committee of the IACP-"promoting the prevention of crime as fundamental to a free and safe society, and developing crime prevention as the top priority for agencies"-the committee is using an electronic survey through the IACP Web site (www.theiacp.org) to seek input from the IACP membership on what crime prevention issues are most important to them. The primary intent of the Crime Prevention Committee survey is to improve services and support to the membership based on direct feedback about problems and issues police leaders are facing in the area of crime prevention. In addition, the survey will also help police agencies deliver the best possible service and programming to the community.

The following are some of the preliminary findings that have been received in response to the survey:

  • 58 percent of the agencies that have responded to date have a person or unit dedicated to crime prevention within their agency

  • 67 percent do not anchor crime prevention in all organizational philosophies and policies

  • 72 percent involve other agencies or organizations in their communities in crime prevention efforts and initiatives
Respondents have also identified the lack of available funding, entrenched attitudes within their organizations, and conflicting public officials' and stakeholders' perceptions on how to combat crime as the greatest obstacles in making crime prevention a comprehensive agency-wide effort.

The Crime Prevention Committee survey continues to be a work in progress. The responses provided will greatly assist the committee to chart a new direction for crime prevention internationally.

Police-Community Crime Management Committee
One method of offsetting the negative impact of conflicting agendas and public perception is by establishing a police-community crime management committee. The purpose of such a committee is to meet on a regular basis to address crime-related issues and help to develop a strategic action plan using police, volunteer, and community resources to address the problem. The benefits of this type of committee to the community are twofold. First and foremost, community leaders become active participants in identifying crime concerns in their specific neighbourhood and secondly the committee provides an opportunity for active participation in the process of developing long-term strategies to eliminate or reduce crime from the neighbourhood.

In general, this type of community partnership is also very useful to local police authorities. It is much easier to solicit community participation in a crime prevention initiative when the participants believe they are playing an active role in developing the strategy and equally responsible for the success or failure of the plan. It's all about ownership.

The Changing Role
The way police agencies address issues related to community crime prevention has changed. Organizations that continue to assume sole responsibility for this function are isolating themselves from our greatest resource and strongest supporter-the community. Although the police will always remain front and center in the

battle against crime, it is becoming increasingly apparent in an era of reduced policing budgets and diminished staffing levels that they can no longer go it alone. Nor can the police be solely accountable for community safety, security, and quality of life.

A community-based approach, composed of a shared vision, must be developed with appropriate strategies, proper allocation of resources, and the implementation of timely initiatives. When combined with the strategic mobilization of the community, the end result is an effective crime prevention model designed to take full advantage of the strengths of all participating partners.

The ever changing nature of crime, combined with the presence of domestic and international terrorism, also requires changes in attitudinal behaviors directed at reducing the threat of crime and enhancing the safety and security of our communities. Only by accepting these changes can we develop an environment where terrorism cannot flourish.

In every circumstance one constant remains true: strong, and committed leadership is an essential element of community crime prevention and community mobilization, the caliber of leadership, commitment, and dedication that exists within the membership of the IACP. The rest is up to us.


For information about the IACP Crime Prevention Committee's work, visit www.theiacp.org .


 

From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 3, March 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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