Rethinking Public Safety
With the departure of our police director, Toney Armstrong, I believe it is time for a conversation on a new meaning for the commonly used term “public safety”. Generally, this term is used to refer to the presence of police officers or has some relation to law enforcement. While I believe that law enforcement should play a major role, I do not believe that the current trends should continue as they have. Society has changed, morals have evolved and what is socially acceptable is not what it used to be. Taking those facts into consideration, it is time for a new, fresh approach that involves the public.
In my opinion, public safety should be the primary responsibility of the public. There is a term that has become widely used- “stakeholder”, in reference to those that should be consulted with when things are about to take place in communities. That term, while it has the potential to carry much weight, has been used too loosely and it has not been truly defined.
What is a stakeholder? Businessdictionary.com defines the term as a
person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. A stakeholder has ownership, or stake in whatever the subject is. When we are discussing community stakeholders, they should have a sense of ownership of the community. Ownership equals the assumption of responsibility. Anything short of that strips that individual from the right be called a stakeholder.
Stakeholders have the responsibility to guide the culture and assist in setting parameters of what will be tolerated in the community. Stakeholders should rally the community around those values and see that they are being followed. We have the awesome responsibility of caring for and developing our environment.
For far too long we have not assumed the roll of stakeholder and we have reassigned, unfairly, the duty of setting our culture and parameters of socially accepted behavior to law enforcement. Law enforcement should be our last option, not our first choice. The first line of defense MUST BE the stakeholders.
To stakeholders, this is my position: no longer can violence be a viable option. I challenge each of you to speak up and calm down conflicts. We know when things are about to take place. Instead of videoing to share, step in and stop. Use the influence of your relationships. We have the ability to create our environment. We determine how safe we will be. Violence can no longer be tolerated and cannot remain the norm in our communities. Stakeholders must say, “We don’t behave like this”.
There will be some that chose not to live within the values that are shared among the majority of the residents. Some still see violence as a method of expression and conflict resolution. When reason is ignored, law enforcement should be deployed. They will enforce the law and, if necessary, remove that individual for the environment. If law enforcement is the first option, who do you turn to when individuals no longer respect the authority of the officers? Who is next in line? By allowing the officers to be the last resort, in cases where that is possible, you build value in community leadership and true community can be established. Anything short of that puts us on the verge of seeing a “police state” as a reasonable solution. Consider this, if the police are being deployed, in most cases, it’s too late. A crime has already been committed. Police don’t stop crime. They respond to it. We don’t need more officers, we need more empowered stakeholders. And, together, we will make the public safe.