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The Journal Gazette

  • Crawford

Monday, February 11, 2019 1:00 am

Crime-fighting essential to city-growth strategy

Dr. John Crawford

Dr. John Crawford is an at-large member of Fort Wayne City Council and candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor.

On Feb. 5, City Council hosted a crime summit where the discussion included current crime statistics, the city's crime-fighting measures, citizens' perceptions of crime in Fort Wayne and the underlying causes of crime. One of the reasons we hosted the summit was to address the many calls we have received from citizens since a shocking triple murder on Thanksgiving.

The reality is that violent crime in 2018 increased 8 percent, while overall crime decreased 15 percent. All crime affects victims; however, the fear of violent crimes is greater. This fear colors residents' perception that crime is prevalent, and that starts to define a person's reality.

The perception of violent crime drives this fear. It puts residents on edge, lessens their quality of life and changes the way they live. This then has the tendency to decrease home values, not only in high-crime areas, but in adjacent neighborhoods. It has been difficult to recruit new businesses to areas of the city where the perception is that crime is high. This perpetuates the cycle of fewer economic opportunities in those areas, which leads more people to turn to crime.

Crime is a very real part of some people's daily lives. I recently received an email from a nursing student who lives in a neighborhood where crime occurs. Since moving to her current home a year ago from Chicago's South Side, her family fears having their house shot at, especially after a bullet hole appeared in the attic window above where her daughter sleeps. She said she felt safer in Chicago than she now does in Fort Wayne.

This story is not unique and she is not alone. Stories like this are heartbreaking, and we must do better.

The summit also explored the root causes of crime. Many children grow up in homes without proper early guidance and with exposure to crime. This leads to more young people using drugs and getting involved in criminal activities. To stop this cycle, we must engage these young people and change their behaviors. Society didn't change overnight, and solutions will not be simple.

Two new strategies being employed are by Fort Wayne United and the recently created Ten Point Coalition. Both groups are working to engage with young African-American men and other citizens to help prevent crime.

Associate professor of public policy Jospeter Mbuba from Purdue University Fort Wayne stated, “Resources must therefore be allocated to factors that make violence attractive ... more creative initiatives that reward virtue while sanctioning vice.” This is what Fort Wayne United strives to accomplish. We will require metrics to measure the effectiveness of this program going forward. Fort Wayne United is evaluating the best way to do that.

The opioid crisis and illegal drugs are other factors driving violent crime. The Fort Wayne Police Department reports drug seizures are up year after year. We will always need more officers and resources to combat illegal drugs. High levels of stress are leading to more drug abuse and suicides. Opioid pill abuse can lead to heroin use, with the disease and crime that accompany that. We should invest more in making sure high-quality treatment is available for people with substance-use disorders who want to get off drugs.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan discussed homicides, stating we need data to determine circumstances and root causes. This data could identify etiologies we could then begin to address.

We have an excellent police department and law enforcement community. Collaborative efforts of the FWPD, Allen County Sheriff's Department, FBI, prosecutor and courts are strong and productive. Over the past few years, we have consistently increased the number of officers available, budgets, specialized training and new technology.

What new strategies could be employed to reduce crime and make our citizens safer? New technology includes cameras, facial recognition, license plate readers, gunshot-spotting technology and voice-activated assistants. Cameras provide an additional set of eyes and are excellent in reducing and helping solve crimes. Solving homicides in Fort Wayne is challenging because of witnesses' unwillingness to come forward. Cameras in high-crime areas could help. Scotland Yard uses camera footage in 95 percent of its solved homicides.

Another good example of successful new technology usage is in the Englewood neighborhood, a high-crime area of Chicago. Writing in the New York Times, Timothy Williams said, “Shootings are down by 52 percent compared with last year. Since the equipment was introduced in February 2017, the neighborhood has led the city in reduction of violent crime, the police say.”

The most important part of implementing new technology is the ability to use the data. The monitoring infrastructure is key, and FWPD is studying this for initial use at a pilot project at Promenade Park. Privacy is a huge concern. Police Chief Steve Reed said. “Before we talk about going into neighborhoods, we definitely need to enter into a conversation with our neighborhood associations and other community groups to make sure they know what we intend on doing and they're comfortable with it.”

We must address the reality of violent crime being up 8 percent, continue to support our excellent law enforcement community and always look for new strategies to reduce crime. Then we need to communicate with citizens about the progress being made so they have accurate perceptions of crime levels and feel more secure in their homes and neighborhoods.