Public safety is a community responsibility

Thanks are in order for Chief of Police Charlie T. Deane due to his gracious invitation to discuss crime prevention efforts in Prince William County. He took an hour and a half out of his busy day to answer my questions and share a wealth of insight and information.

My last column noted that the 2002 PWC Citizen Satisfaction Survey showed that 80.5 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with crime prevention programs, down from 85.1 percent in 2000. Citizens rated many county services considerably higher, several significantly lower. Right or wrong, nearly 20 percent of the 2002 respondents perceived that we need to improve crime prevention.

Chief Deane provided important context to this issue. He noted that the average for citizen satisfaction with crime prevention over the last eight years is 83 percent, vice the 80.5 percent for 2002. Accordingly, we did not observe a statistically significant downturn in citizen satisfaction in this area in 2002. Chief Deane and I agreed that while it is unrealistic to ever expect this rate to approach 100 percent, we all want to do more to improve citizen satisfaction with crime prevention efforts.

Chief Deane also appropriately highlighted that 93 percent of the citizens surveyed were satisfied with police services overall and that after Sept. 11 police resources focused on terrorism preparedness and the anthrax scare, inevitably reducing the resources available for crime prevention activities. He also noted that when comparing police service ratings to fire service ratings it needs to be kept in mind that, by the nature of the job, police often perform in an adversarial environment, whereas, most fire prevention and medical rescue functions are activities focused almost exclusively on helping people.

Chief Deane also presented data showing that aggregate crime rates per 1,000 residents in PWC declined in the last few years. That is good news; however, he also showed a graphic that supported my previous assertion that there are certain neighborhoods on both ends of the county that are more crime prone. The graphic showed a clustering of drug related arrests in several neighborhoods.

Despite the positive contextual data described above, the public perception persists that we need to improve crime prevention efforts in Prince William. How can we best improve the reality and the perception of crime prevention? First, as I suggested in my last column, our elected officials should start by providing the funds needed to hire more public safety officers and by aggressively pursuing all available revenue sources, such as state and federal grants. The Police Department, by all accounts undermanned, needs more officers. Over the last several years Chief Deane has routinely requested 20 new officers annually to keep pace with population growth. Provide full funding for these 20 officers and hold Chief Deane accountable for training and employing them to effectively fight crime.

Increased funding is never a “cure-all” for any governmental challenge. Real solutions require no-nonsense management that employs all resources effectively and efficiently, holds the right people accountable, and demands that taxpayers get full value for their contribution to the common good.

Like most societal issues, we citizens also have responsibilities in crime prevention. For example, there are 173 county neighborhoods that have a “neighborhood watch” but there are several that do not. Huh? Those neighborhoods without a neighborhood watch may as well post signs saying “Criminals Welcome Here!” Perhaps the residents of these neighborhoods feel safe and that such efforts are unnecessary. Such complacency invites disaster. Something to look for in 2003. Chief Deane and his experts are mulling over how existing neighborhood watches can be made more attentive to potential terrorist pre-strike activities.

The PWC police department offers a wide range of opportunities for citizens and businesses to learn more about law enforcement and crime prevention. Residents can attend the Citizen Police Academy and classes at Crime Prevention Centers in the Potomac Mills and Manassas malls. Police perform home security surveys for any county resident free of charge. Rape prevention and personal safety programs are also available. For more information, see the Police Department’s crime prevention programs at: “”

This column focuses on crime prevention techniques used to stop criminals at the point where criminal intent transitions to criminal behavior. Of course, there a wide range of societal “causes” that prompt people to develop criminal intent, including the failure of some to adequately parent their children, the breakdown of families, weak schools and insufficient job opportunities. These human challenges warrant a wide range of public policy solutions, including increased funding and accountability in public education. Enacting “feel good” legislation that posts “values” signs in our public schools will have negligible effect inculcating appropriate values in our children. That is a job for parents and for quality teachers who say infinitely more by the power of their personal example than by pointing to a sign on the wall. But that is a discussion for another day …

Rick Coplen welcomes your feedback. You can reach him at [email protected]

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