Keeping crime under control in our communities requires more than scads of police.
It takes officers and the people whom they are sworn to protect working in cooperation – talking to each other and developing mutual trust – to root out the sources of trouble: drug dealers, gang members and perpetrators of violent crimes.
Encouragingly, two recent events in Wilkes-Barre suggest that cops and community members aim to strengthen their bonds and potentially avoid the kind of social unrest that has exploded in recent years after police-involved shootings in Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and other U.S. cities.
Last month, a roundtable held at Wilkes University allowed area residents to ask local officials about hot-button issues such as diversity (or a lack of it) among police ranks, strategies to slow the opioid epidemic, and cultural sensitivity.
“I think it definitely helped to open up the dialogue that is missing in a lot of cities in the United States,” said Wilkes-Barre Councilwoman Beth Gilbert, co-organizer of the event. Gilbert intends to schedule similar meetings at venues throughout the city, she said.
Separately, about 50 law enforcement officers from several agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state police, strolled certain Wilkes-Barre streets Friday as part of “National Community Policing Week.”
“It’s our job to protect and serve the public. … But we ask the communities that we serve to help us,” said participant Bruce Brandler, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “And we want to collaborate with them.”
Neither of these local events is, by itself, going to significantly change public attitudes and improve safety. Nor is the Wilkes-Barre Police Department’s recent appointment of Robert Collins – its only black patrolman – to the post of community policing and crime prevention officer. (“Community policing must be much more than one officer forming a relationship; it involves making inroads in the most challenged communities,” states a January 2015 report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.)
All that said, each of these worthy efforts – when combined with dozens, then hundreds, more bridge-building actions like them – can yield the kind of community in which most people want to live: culturally vibrant, strongly connected and safe.