Focus on Community Policing: Fostering Community Partnerships That Prevent Crime and Promote Quality of Life
Cronkhite, Clyde L., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
During the past decade, crime has decreased in urban areas, but, subsequently, some rural communities have experienced an increase because offenders have been forced away from large cities. (1) This trend threatens the quality of life in many suburban and rural areas. Therefore, a growing number of townships are taking a proactive posture against this movement by focusing on community-based crime prevention programs, which unite communities in the fight to thwart the spread of crime.
McDonough County, Illinois, is in the western part of the state with a population of approximately 40,000 and includes Macomb, a university town of 20,000 residents plus 12,000 college students. Although Macomb offers a family friendly atmosphere with a low crime rate, harbingers of gang and drug activities surfaced, perhaps from an influx of individuals seeking a haven from the increased law enforcement efforts in larger cities. Drug arrests began to occur and evidence of graffiti appeared. Therefore, citizens of Macomb decided to handle these problems by drawing from their community-based, crime prevention program experiences. Macomb's results may serve as a model for other cities confronting similar trends.
Many of today's crime prevention approaches are based on an experiment conducted in a New Jersey community years ago, which spotlighted the importance of maintaining neighborhoods to keep communities relatively crime free. (2) The broken windows theory holds that such issues as street maintenance and lighting, limits on the number of families living in a single dwelling, and control of absentee landlord rentals reduce crime. Additionally, attention to minor infractions that erode well-kept, safe environments, such as loud music, abandoned cars, and graffiti, can prevent the spread of gang violence, drug abuse, and other criminal conduct. Macomb applied the broken windows concept in a rural environment by forming community partnerships that result in a continuous focus on quality-of-life issues.
In early 1994, Macomb formed a Crime and Quality of Life Advisory Committee, changing the name in 1996 to Community Quality of Life Committee and expanding the purview to include all of McDonough County. The committee seeks "to support efforts that contribute to the excellence of our community and to monitor and give advice regarding maintaining and enhancing community quality of life, including the prevention and reduction of crimes that adversely impact our neighborhoods." (3)
The committee recruited concerned citizens who have a responsibility for quality of life and criminal justice academicians from the local university, as well as other community leaders. Several committee members, such as the fire chief, sheriff, mayor, school superintendent, executive director of the housing authority, and the local state senator, were selected because their positions have the responsibility and authority to provide a prospering neighborhood.
The major responsibility of the advisory committee involves developing a method for measuring the quality of life in the community, setting a baseline, and monitoring its status. To complete this task, a criminal justice research specialist (a member of the committee) and graduate assistants from the local university's department of law enforcement and justice administration analyzed 26 years of crime trends in Macomb and McDonough County, comparing them with eight contiguous counties and totals for the state of Illinois. They selected "community wellness" indicators (e.g., poverty and welfare rates, per capita income, single parent families, births by mothers under 18 years of age, truancy violations, and emergency room admissions) from their research.
The committee meets at least four times a year, and members review these indicators. Then, they publish a community "report card" or "wellness report. …