In recent debates about the need to address crime in Tallahassee, there has been much focus placed on increasing the number of officers per resident along with discussion on “community policing.” While I think these ideas are intended to address the local crime issue, I am concerned that they are short sighted and will ultimately fall short of mitigating the root causes of crime in Tallahassee.
The true sources of violent crime in our city are better correlated to poverty, lack of social capital and mental health issues. Attempts to address crime without a focus on these core issues will only serve as a Band-Aid on an infected gunshot wound.
Community policing is a complex idea that does not have one set definition, making measurement of its success difficult. While some attempts at community policing have proven beneficial, others have been met with mixed results. In my experiences talking with members of several communities nationwide, there is a sentiment that “over-policing communities of color” would be a more appropriate title.
Tallahassee Chief of Police Michael DeLeo is among the city’s most adamant advocates of community policing. While his efforts should be supported, they alone are insufficient. Furthermore, it is unfair and unwise to expect the addition of new officers to solely result in any significant decrease in major crime. In order to be successful, these efforts must be coupled with additional measures that attack the roots of violent crime in our city.
It is imperative that we develop a more comprehensive approach to addressing our public safety concerns. First, we must begin to treat crime as a public health issue. This includes comprehensive campaigns that address the problem at the individual, family and community level. We must get creative at reaching out to our young people and teaching them about the consequences of crime for the entire community. Also, there must be a focus on re-entry for ex-offenders. If we do not find a way to make them productive members of our communities they are likely to re-offend.
Often overlooked is the role of environmental factors and their impact on crime rates. The physical appearance of several neighborhoods in Tallahassee is conducive for violence because they influence the morale of the communities, making them less resilient. Criminals often identify these areas and they become hot-spots for criminal activity. The treatment of the environment in these neighborhoods contributes to the mindset that crime is an acceptable part of the culture.
Lastly, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that our fellow citizens are not choosing between crime and malnutrition. We have citizens who are considering Leon County Jail as a viable option for shelter and food.
Ultimately, we should not expect much movement in our crime rate if we do not address the poverty rate.
Bruce Strouble holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and is a candidate for City Commission Seat 1. He is executive director of Citizens for a Sustainable Future and an academic advisor for the Undergraduate Student Success Center at FAMU.