All have roles in solving city crime dilemma

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, August 8, 2010

This past week’s discussion among Brookhaven officialsrepresents a good start toward addressing many of the city’scrime-related concerns, but ultimate success will take the combinedefforts of all sectors of the community.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, aldermen heard from concerned citizensand Police Chief Pap Henderson about how best to combat the growingproblem in our city.

Part of the discussion examined the need for more police officerson the street, particularly in the wake of the city’s 2007annexation that tripled the city’s size.

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Henderson addressed pay and qualification issues that have madeacquiring and retaining officers difficult. A frustration overtraining new officers only to lose them to other cities raisedquestions on pay scales and a request by board members for areview.

Mayor Les Bumgarner presented a $450,000 estimate that could leadto approximately 18 officers per shift within BPD. As budget timeapproaches, the ball will be squarely in the aldermen’s courtwhether if or how more funding for police manpower can beaccommodated.

But while more manpower and a greater police presence willcertainly be welcome, that alone will not solve city crimeproblems.

Another issue mentioned several times at Tuesday’s meeting wascommunity and parental involvement, especially given that juvenilesare blamed for a fair amount of the crimes happening in the city.Changing some parental attitudes about children’s activities wasone suggestion.

“Maybe some parents need mentoring instead of their kids,”Henderson said.

Parents and citizens taking a more active role in their ownbackyards would go a long toward making their communities safer.Local authorities are pursuing two programs that could betterfacilitate that involvement.

Toward that end, officials said there are several groups in thecity that want to start up Neighborhood Watch programs. In thepast, programs have mainly been active in the county.

However, having Neighborhood Watch programs in the city would allowfor more sets of eyes to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.And the possibility of being able to report such activity through ablock captain offers the opportunity for people to be involvedwhile still maintaining a certain level of anonymity.

Another anonymous program is Crimestoppers, through which citizensmay call to report tips on criminal activity. There is even thepossibility of a reward should information lead to an arrest.

Currently, the program is in place locally, but is operated fromthe state level. Henderson and Sheriff Steve Rushing said they areexploring the possibility of a local program or participation in aregional effort with some area counties.

The final component in combating crime is the court system.

Circuit court is the destination for major crimes committed byadults, but youth court is where crimes committed by juveniles arehandled. But despite the best efforts of court officials, thesystem is overloaded and working poorly.

With youth cases taking sometimes weeks to get to court and withrelatively few options for attention-getting punishment, juvenilestoo often remain free to continue their mischievous ways. And lawenforcement officers grow increasingly demoralized in their effortsto combat that segment of the crime community.

Whether locally, regionally or at the state level, something mustbe done to address juvenile problems.

From citizens to law enforcement to the courts, preventing crimeand increasing neighborhood safety takes a community-wide effort.That destination has yet to be reached, but Brookhaven leaders aretaking a step in the right direction.