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Monterey County, CA November 7, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Community Safety

By Dennis Donohue

Candidate for Mayor; City of Salinas

This information is provided by the candidate
An Integrated Approach, Based On Proven Best Practices
I have a comprehensive plan to reduce crime throughout Salinas. It's a plan that brings together the elements that have been shown to work by the most successful police departments in America, including:

  • Giving police the staff and resources they need
  • Putting more officers on the street where they can form closer relationships with the people on their beats
  • Involving community groups, businesses, churches and neighborhoods--to prevent crime before it happens.

As with most hard problems, crime won't be solved by simplistic solutions or empty slogans. It will be solved by putting together the kind of multi-dimensional plan that's been proven to work in other cities.

The first step is to make sure our police have what they need to do their work. Currently the Salinas Police Department has 20 unfilled police positions, an overcrowded headquarters, and uncompetitive police pay scales. Our force is excellent but overextended. And because of the combination of tough working conditions and relatively low pay, we end up training officers for other forces, because our officers tend to leave after only a few years of service here.

So we need to start by recognizing the need to invest in upgrading our basic law enforcement capability. Cutting corners on policing is a false economy: we end up paying much more than we save, in the direct costs of crime and the indirect costs to our quality of life and to economic growth--community safety is a prerequisite to investment.

One of the most successful techniques from other cities is the "broken window" strategy. This strategy, which is based on thinking put forth in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, and which New York City used to turn around its crime problem in the 1990s. The strategy calls for cleaning up neglected environments--since disorder in the environment appears to lead to more criminal behavior--and enforcing laws covering relatively minor infractions, on the theory that people who commit minor crimes are also likely to commit more serious ones.

Our police know about the "broken window" strategy. They know that pulling over a car full of young men for not wearing seatbelts can net gangbangers with outstanding warrants. But with too few resources, our police are too often forced into tactical, not strategic, implementation. Our police need more staff and better support to make the strategy truly strategic.

This approach to law enforcement is often oversimplified as "getting tough on crime". That phrase misses the multidimensional nature of the strategy, and overlooks the key point that the idea is not so much to be "tough" as to be scientific--to do the things that have been shown to work.

In any case, enforcement alone, no matter how thorough, is not enough to make crime go away, as the police will be the first to tell us. That's because the crime we see is not the whole problem; the crime we see is just the last link in a chain of problems. Successful anti-crime programs attack crime at its roots, and from multiple directions. Such programs are not only about enforcement after a crime has been committed. They are also about prevention and intervention before the crime has been committed.

There are several approaches that work successfully to prevent crimes from being committed in the first place. One of the most important is the involvement of members of the community, working as partners with the police: community policing.

Community Policing
When patrol officers spend much of their time in cars, fewer officers can cover larger areas, but their connection with the community is diminished. That means police lose the dramatic "force multiplier" effect of hundreds of pairs of friendly eyes and ears. Community policing recognizes that there was value in the old beat-walking model of policing, value that 20th Century police departments partly lost in the search for efficiency through the use of technology such as cars and radios. In the 21st Century, community policing is contributing to a nationwide decline in crime--a decline we can enjoy here in Salinas as well.

Salinas' police already know about the value of community policing; our department is up to date on all modern law enforcement thinking. But in order to make community policing work as well as it can, we need to have enough officers, and we need to be able to retain those officers. This is an area where the city as a whole needs to unite and make a necessary and valuable public investment.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
When an environment is neglected--when there are too many broken windows--average citizens feel endangered and retreat into their houses and apartments. That means they take their eyes off the street, which enables even more crime to be committed, leading to a cycle of neighborhood decline.

This leads us to the prevention component of the broken windows strategy, an approach sometimes known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPETD addresses all the problems in an environment that can lead to increases in crime, and enlists community partners in working to solve those problems. This can include graffiti paint-outs, removal of abandoned vehicles, lighting improvements, litter pick-ups, and neighborhood watch programs. According to a report by the US Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice:

...these problem-solving efforts help reduce the fear of crime and increase a community's sense of control... Experience in such programs has shown that such joint activities, which build trust and cooperation between police and neighborhood residents, form the foundation for further partner-ships to promote problem solving and increase residents' control of their neighborhoods.

Again, our police know the value of CPTED. But we can help them implement it more effectively, and we don't need to rely exclusively on the strained city budget to supply this help. CPTED is a natural arena for public-private partnerships: the benefits are clear to everyone, and businesses, citizens and community groups are more than willing to pitch in. Here the role of an effective city government is to provide strategic guidance, to put forward the vision and provide coordination so that all the various participants can work together effectively. I have seen how well this can work. I have worked extensively with business through my experience with the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Grower-Shipper Association; with government through my involvement with Rally Salinas/Measure V, the Planning Commission and other bodies; and with community groups such as the East Salinas Family Center, the Second Chance Youth Program and others.

Non-Police Components
There are aspects of this strategy that have little to do with policing. For example, experience has shown that architecture plays an important role in community safety. Something as simple as the traditional front porch turns out to make neighborhoods safer. When houses have front porches, residents tend to gather on them and thereby keep an eye on the street. That leads to less crime. We can work with developers of new housing and encourage them to apply the best available information on what makes a neighborhood safe and livable.

And the presence of housing itself helps to deter crime. One of the most powerful drivers of crime is economic desperation. Salinas, as we know too well, is the least affordable housing market in the United States. We need to do everything we can, including working with the county, state and federal governments, as well as businesses and the community, to increase our supply of affordable housing. To do otherwise not only harms our quality of life and our economy--it is simply inhumane.

This does not mean we should encourage new housing to sprawl across farmland and open space. It means we should work with all stakeholders to provide good, affordable housing, built where it's needed, and where it's supported by services. The debate in Monterey County on this issue has recently become intensely polarized. But some communities, including our neighbors in the Pajaro Valley, have shown that people of good faith can work together towards a shared vision of what's good for all, even across ideological or financial conflicts. One of my core motivations is to provide leadership in achieving this kind of unity based on a shared vision. My own campaign team is composed of Democrats, Republicans, environmentalists, developers, agriculturalists, community activists and more, and the level of harmony we have achieved inspires me.

There is a way station between prevention and enforcement, and that is intervention. In particular, intervention in the lives of young people who may be on their way into criminal careers.

Research shows the power of well-timed and well-designed intervention, and I have seen it for myself through my volunteer work with the Second Chance Youth Program. For those of us who have had the benefits of a stable family and a good education, it can be hard to understand why some young people make choices that are almost guaranteed to end up badly. But the young are driven by the need for recognition, meaning and a sense of identity, and the power of this need can easily overwhelm cool, rational decision-making. If for example a gang provides a powerful sense of recognition, meaning and identity, and the alternatives are few, the gang will continually be able to attract new recruits.

Programs like Second Chance offer a compelling alternative to gangs: recognition, meaning and identity in a positive context. And this alternative works. My friend Brian Contreras, the Director of Second Chance and a former gang member himself, is living evidence.

The research says the same thing: enforcement is important, but "getting tough" is not the whole solution. According to a Duke University study published in 2001:

Public policy in the United States has historically considered youth violence as a moral problem to be punished after the fact, but growing scientific evidence [shows] violent behavior as an interaction between cultural forces and failures in development. Prevention science has provided a bridge between an understanding of how chronic violence develops and how prevention programs can interrupt that development.

Bringing It All Together: A Community Safety Director
My experience in business, government and community groups tells me that the power to get things done comes from individual people working together. It also tells me that working together requires leaders, leaders who champion the vision and keep the work on track.

So in order to guide the success of an integrated, multidimensional safety strategy, I will propose the creation of a new role for a good leader to step into: the role of Community Safety Director.

As I envision this role, the Community Safety Director will take responsibility for ensuring that the many contributors to our strategy are working in synch. By ensuring that efforts by government, police and community members are coordinated, we will avoid duplication, inefficiency or cross-purposes, and will instead reap the benefits of economies of scale--the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The position of Community Safety Director will report directly to the Mayor, and will have my full support in enacting our comprehensive strategy for government working as a partner with the police, business and the community. Success in this role will lead to recognition at the local, state and national level, for the individual and for Salinas.

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