Recently, Paine College played host to a meeting dedicated to better understanding how local neighborhoods can become safer places to live. Gathered there were representatives of several neighborhood associations, several county officials, Commissioner Matt Aitken and Capt. Scott Peebles of the sheriff’s department.
The meeting covered a number of topics, but the subject of safety and crime was the topic which elicited the most interest. The comments and suggestions presented covered a wide scope, but a common thread became quickly apparent. Almost without exception each contributor was, perhaps without knowing it, describing a philosophy referred to as community policing.
Community policing is hardly new. It is what most seniors recall as the dominant policing philosophy from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, particularly in urban areas. It was characterized by officers who were assigned to an area for extended periods of time.
The officer knew the people on his beat, and the people who lived and worked there knew him. He knew whom to trust, and the people trusted him. The flow of intelligence and citizens’ sense of security was significant. Why did this effective system change?
There are hundreds of books on the changes in policing in the past 40 to 50 years, and the reasons for this change. One reason is the evolution of urban to suburban living. Another of the most important reasons is simple: money. Traditional community policing is expensive and most communities have not been able to afford it.
Over time, police leaders evolved methods and practices that made the best use of money available to cover assigned territory. Officers on foot or a horse and the presence of two officers in one patrol car disappeared.
The U.S. Department of Justice has in the past several years recognized again the value of community policing as populations in urban areas return. They strongly support the re-adoption of this successful philosophy.
Augusta will, next fall, elect a sheriff and several commissioners. If citizens want to do something about crime, they are going to have to do two things: They are going to have to elect a sheriff who will implement community policing; and they are going to have to elect commissioners who have the courage to fund it.
Phillip A. Williams