For those of you who have seen the movie The Perfect Storm you know it's about a small commercial fishing vessel that left port out of Maine and became a victim of a perfect storm with all lives aboard lost at sea. The perfect storm in that case was the convergence of two storm fronts that met each other out over the Atlantic Ocean creating one giant storm that wreaked havoc and destruction along the eastern seaboard.
The potential for a perfect storm that I refer to is brewing in communities and states across the nation right now. As of this writing, law enforcement officers from agencies large and small are being laid off; not furloughed, not taking vacation with out pay but actually laid off as in turn in your gun and badge, you are no longer a peace officer. At the same time, due to massive budget cuts, states such as California are preparing to release approximately 40,000 prisoners from state facilities; not local jails but state facilities where individuals convicted of serious crimes go. On the low end of estimates, approximately fifty percent off all prison inmates return to a life of crime and end up back in prison. Based on that low estimate, the good citizens of the state of California for example can soon expect to have approximately 20,000 criminals released back into their state who will begin an active life of crime, this is on top of the X number of active criminals already on the streets today.
As we watch these two separate - yet related - events begin to occur, one can easily see how when the two converge in your local community: police officers are laid off and newly released criminals restart their crime waves. It is easy to see how this could become the Perfect Storm for your city or state.
While there is no easy answer to solve this problem (other than a quick influx of billions of dollars to stop the police lay offs and early releases) now more than ever, local law enforcement must partner with the good citizens of their communities to unite against crime. In its second year now, the nationwide Celebrate Safe Communities program offers a perfect opportunity to engage your citizens to help unite against the possibility of a perfect storm in your community.
Funded by the U.S. DOJ's Bureau of Justice Assistance and managed by the National Crime Prevention Council and National Sheriff's Association, the event will take place this year on October 1 - 3, 2009. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to engage your community in a positive way, other benefits of the program are the cost factor, or lack there of. Unlike another popular national event with no federal oversight, where participating communities must purchase everything and anything that has the event logo on it from the non-profit who runs the event, the Celebrate Safe Communities project does not charge for such items and makes available all the marketing materials for free to create your own event.
For communities who want to create event items such as large banners, t-shirts, etc., the Celebrate Safe Communities project allows communities to print their own items. Using your own local vendors versus just one source avoids a monopoly situation which is not in the best interest of your agency or community and in the end saves you money. Law Enforcement agencies and community groups who wish to participate in this year's 2009 Celebrate Safe Communities event can register their event and obtain many free resources at the programs web site listed at the bottom of this article.
Finding Safe Harbor from a Perfect Storm
One of the keys to engaging your community in crime prevention and crime solving is creating the sense of belonging and partnership with your citizens. Remember that aged old saying from Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing, "The people are the police and the police are the people"? As corny as it may sound, truer words have rarely been spoken. For sworn members of law enforcement who are reading this article, I'm sure at some point in your career while you were off duty you had the occasion of calling 911 to report a crime in progress. If you didn't identify yourself as an officer when calling in, how did you feel your information was treated? Was it, "Thanks, we'll take it from here", CLICK, leaving you to wonder if anyone was really going to respond to your information? Or, did you feel as if the 911 operator was working with you as a partner to help get all the important information needed so units responding could take swift action regarding your call and catch the bad guys? If you've ever experienced the first example of, "Thanks, now go away and let the officers handle this", then you might have a small glimpse into what some citizens may be feeling when they look to your police agency for help, which is not what you want.
Engaging the citizens of your community one-on-one at events like Celebrate Safe Communities can open the door to dialogue to hear first hand their concerns and perhaps a few tips along the way. While doing so you may also make a few allies in the process so in the future you can truly celebrate a safer community and find safe harbor from a perfect storm within your own community!