FEATURED IN INDUSTRY NEWS
- Cotter Research 2013 Summer Law Enforcement Conference: A Web-Based Event
- L-3 Mobile-Vision Announces Patrol Scout Situational Awareness with Video Streaming
- Harris Corporation Awarded $19 Million Contract to Improve Virginia County Critical Communications
- California Receives First-Ever White Space Broadband Network
- Barnes Proudly Sponsors NRA Woman’s Outlook
- GammaTech Introduces Latest Model to Its Award-Winning Rugged Durabook Notebook Line
- City of Phoenix (Ariz.) PD Hits the Streets with VIEVU’s Wearable Cameras
Whether its roots can be traced to the declining economy, some sort of demographic shift, bolder criminals, or an unarmed and vulnerable population may be debatable. Maybe the cause is something altogether different. What is certain is that a 46% increase in robberies, along with a general increase in other types of street crime, is a significant statistical bump for a city of over 50,000 situated adjacent to the west side of Chicago. In the last year, Oak Park, IL has experienced more violent crime than it has in recent memory.
Illinois is one of only two states (our northern neighbor Wisconsin is the other) that does not allow concealed carry of firearms by its citizens. Oak Park is one of handful of municipalities in Illinois that does not even allow its residents to own and possess guns in their own homes. Unfortunately for Oak Parkers, someone forgot to tell the criminals, who often insist on bringing weapons along to their robberies. The need for a decisive, bold response on the part of the Oak Park Police Department leadership was clear, and the brass did not disappoint. The answer is whistles!
Now, stop with the skepticism! Here is how it works: The city, through the department's public relations division, will purchase brass police whistles in bulk and either give them away or sell them to residents for a nominal price. The no-longer-frightened residents can go about their business knowing that, should they be robbed, assaulted, or otherwise victimized, all they have to do is blow their whistle to alert others of the attack, who will call OPPD, who will sweep in and immediately capture the miscreants. That seems to be the theory, anyway.
Maybe. But what if the reality is more like this: tweet, tweeeeet, tweeeeeeBANG!
The Whistle Stop Program, as it is called, was big news in and around Chicago for a few days as TV, print, and radio news covered the plan. The blogosphere jumped on the story with online chatterers enthusiastically chiming in, pro and con. Of course, the most telling online opinion came from actual cops. To summarize from their typically colorful, expressive and almost completely, if hilariously, unprintable postings; they do not like the idea. At all. As one poster pointed out, this has been tried before and wearing a whistle around one's neck is not fashionable. Hey, I'm going to blow my whistle, young man! Wait, it was in the purse he just grabbed...
In The Choirboys Joseph Wambaugh referenced, and then through the words of his fictional patrol officer characters, savaged, an identical LAPD program to exemplify inappropriate or ineffective Band-Aid measures, dreamed up by PR savvy administrators, substituting for real solutions. How is it that something ridiculed, in one of our most popular novels about police officers, should resurface nearly 35 years later? We optimistically want to believe that the Whistle Stop Program is merely the PR front while behind the scenes the OPPD is creating tactically sound, as well as properly funded and manned, responses to the problem. Our cynical selves fear the WSP is The Big Idea, meant to placate for want of a better plan.
Cops, the Economy, and Budget Reality
If fluctuations in crime rate is one barometer of the economic state, as some believe, then it may be no surprise Oak Park is experiencing a spike in robberies. Although considered relatively affluent, it has some social issues of its own and also abuts a disadvantaged, high crime area of Chicago. Communities all over are experiencing upticks in crime, serious and otherwise, as people hear about and experience economic stagnation and react to it. Governments and their agencies, such as law enforcement, are being asked to do more with less and, in some cases, look for ways to reduce costs such as cutting services, purchasing, or personnel. Law enforcement agencies are like any other and have been asked to cut back. Typically, non-sworn positions are either cut outright or eliminated by attrition first. This is now happening in some agencies with sworn positions. Squads are driven longer, overtime is cut, and pennies are pinched with a vice-like grip.
We understand police administrators answer to the chief, who answers to his or her director, who answers to the politicians, who answer to the voters, who demand frugality in these times. This is as it should be to ensure accountability. Accountability must be a two-way street, however, and as law enforcement is accountable to the public to do the job it is supposed to, the politicians are accountable to allow law enforcement proper access to the funding and resources it needs for that job. The challenge for LE administrators, many if not most who serve at the will of their bosses (and thusly the elected), will be finding a way to illustrate the importance of proper funding to carry out the mission their communities deserve. It would be disappointing if the Whistle Stop Program was the alternative to boldly saying "Please trust us to allocate our resources as we need, to hire back cops to cover the streets and work enforcement details without challenging our use of overtime, and to do what it takes to get a handle on this situation without interference from outside the department. "
Eternal Vigilance the Price of Liberty (and the Bane of Bad Government)
Maybe you have heard or read fellow LEOs say something along the lines of: "It is not my job to have an opinion about the laws of this state or the policies of my department;, it is my job to enforce the laws and follow the policy"? While the second part of that statement is certainly true, is not the first part an abdication of your rights and responsibilities as a citizen? Of course you can have, and express, opinions about what you are asked to do and how you do it, the laws you enforce, and the direction of your country, state, and city. In fact, you probably have a greater obligation even than citizens who do not have your knowledge and background.
It is going to be up to you, the officers who really know the streets, the people, and the needs of your communities to remain vigilant against reductions in solid police service. It will be up to you to stand united against those who will want to trim budgets past the point of practicality. It will be up to you to honestly confront empty gestures meant to placate the community, at the cost of substantial service. And, most importantly, it will be up to you to stand guard over your safety and the safety of your brother and sister officers. Everyone has an agenda, let yours be on the side of safety and service.