Our View: Crime concerns should be backed by numbers




The scope of a community's "crime problem" is often a reflection of the community's perception of it. 


In that respect, we are reminded of Franklin Roosevelt's admonition during his inaugural address of 1933, which came when America was in the desperate throws of the Great Depression. 


"We have nothing to fear but fear itself," FDR observed, noting that the crippling fear of what was happening across the country only exacerbated its effect. 


Roosevelt understood that while there was no denying the reality of the crisis, a response based on fear, suspicion and hopelessness were counter-productive in addressing the serious problems facing the nation. FDR inspired confidence, hope and unity as necessary tools to rebuild confidence. 


The same can be said now. 


During his appearance at Tuesday's Rotary Club meeting, CPD Chief Fred Shelton faced multiple questions about crime in the city. That's his job, of course, but the questions seemed to convey something else: A disturbing belief that crime not only exists but is beyond our control. 


Like most issues that develop over time, there are no quick solutions. The underlying causes of crime are persistent and entrenched. Where there is poverty, there is hopelessness. Where there is hopelessness, there is crime. When that hopelessness begins to spread throughout the broader community, efforts to combat crime lose an important ally -- the confidence of the law-abiding citizens. 


Shelton, on the job as chief since January, offered no quick solution. What he did offer Tuesday were practical steps that can be taken, both short-term and long-term. 


Some steps are obvious -- increasing staffing, for example. A year ago, the CPD's staffing was at a critical low, just 40 officers. By the end of the year, Shelton said, the department should have 70 officers. 


Beyond that, Shelton said, the joint drug task force of the city and county is making a real impact. 


Aside from those changes, some of the bigger factors in making our neighborhoods safer are up to the citizens themselves. 


The removal of blighted areas through redevelopment -- both public and private -- restore confidence in neighborhoods. Engaging citizens through volunteer opportunities -- Shelton said many of the duties that used to keep officers at a desk instead of on the street are now being performed by volunteers -- ensure the most efficient and effective use of police personnel. 


Those relationships between police and citizens are of critical importance. We cannot expect 70 officers, no matter how committed, well-equipped or well-trained they may be, to "solve" our crime problem. 


Part of our role as citizens is understanding the problem. 


The crime concerns held by the Rotarians are not unique to them. There seems to be a pervasive opinion that Columbus has an uncontrollable crime problem. 


We believe such concerns should be rooted in facts, not opinions formed by anecdotal evidence.  


Beginning this week, The Dispatch will collect crime data from area law enforcement agencies. We'll look at the data and talk to crime experts. Once we have a comprehensive view of crime in our communities, we'll present it to our readers. 


When we understand what crime actually looks like in our community, we'll be on our way to a unified effort to address the issues as they actually exist, not as we imagine them to exist.



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