December 28, 2011 10:30:00 AM
After being robbed last week, I went through the five stages of grief. First, I was too shocked to believe it. As I stared at the spot where my TV usually hung and the place where my X-Box 360 usually rested, I kept expecting the items to reappear. When they didn't, I looked on my couch and realized my laptop - a MacBook Air - was also missing. The disbelief then wore off.
Next, I was infuriated. Someone had watched me leave my house or realized I wasn't at home and then, without knowing how soon I would return, broke into my home and stole my property. The loss of the possessions only sparked my anger. There was also the violation; the realization my most intimate and private space was not safe, and the fear that followed. What if I came home? What if a loved one did or a family member? What would have happened? These questions made it a lot more difficult to sleep.
When I arrived at the final stage - the loss of all the documents on my laptop made the depression longer than normal - and finally accepted the loss, I begin to think about the bigger picture. A lot of my friends weren't surprised by the burglary and several complained about similar experiences. Not one for noticing a problem without thinking about a solution, I reflected on ways to change this dynamic. In the long run, the answer is simple: better parents + better schools = safer communities. Finding this combination, of course, is complicated and elusive.
During the interviews for Columbus police chief, all the candidates claimed community policing was also a strong deterrent to crime and promised to increase the police presence in the community. Details about how this would be done, on the other hand, weren't nearly as common. Now that he's been appointed, over the next few months, Chief McQueen will probably have his best opportunity to fill in the details and keep his promise.
But my recent burglary shows he has work to do. The officers who arrived on the scene were professional and courteous, but I had never met either of them. They didn't know my neighbors or seem to have a lot of knowledge about the neighborhood. They didn't have any specific leads, although they both thought some young teenagers in the neighborhood were responsible for the burglaries. They said many had been reported from this side of town over the past few days but didn't indicate a strategy for stopping them.
This also, however, indicates where Chief McQueen could start. Contact and communication are the most effective ways to learn a neighborhood. One way to improve community policing would be to divide the police force by neighborhoods. A group of officers and a supervisor could be assigned an area and be responsible for communicating with the people in it. Within the group, specific officers could be responsible for specific streets.
The officers could start with a visit to each home, particularly in the high crime areas, so they could meet the people and obtain information. They could also periodically check back with people and learn about any changes. Therefore, whenever or wherever a crime occurred, at least one officer would have people to go to for information and a better chance of solving the crime.
As with all the ideas in my column, I'm not suggesting this is the only approach to community policing or that I know more about solving crime than Chief McQueen. This approach would require a lot of police officers and may not currently be practical. There may be other ways to increase the deterrent effect of police presence and visibility. What I do know, though, is that we can't allow burglaries to be so common in Columbus they aren't a surprise. That's a recipe for disaster.
Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]
Scott Colom is a local attorney.