I was awakened by gunshots this morning. I imagine for many, if not the majority of Norristonians, hearing gunshots isn't a new experience.
When asked this week what could be done about Norristown's high crime rate, Council President Gary Simpson wrote on Facebook "What we are experiencing is happening throughout the entire country and is not
just limited to Norristown. We have a town which has become increasingly more
like a larger city because of its more urban (characterized by higher population
density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it) area
I'm not sure what he meant by "vast human features." When I think of human features, I think of faces, and I don't think our faces are any larger than the general population of the world. But let's look at the rest of his statement.
If you Google "Norristown, PA crime rate," lots of sites come up. (They are all based on 2011 information. Apparently 2012 data hasn't been officially released yet.) Here are some of the links if you want to go look:
These sites also have statistics for all of Pennsylvania and sometimes the whole country. The US government census site also has national data, so it's pretty easy to do a comparison. The results?
Our murder rate is more than double the national average, as is our assault rate. Robberies are more than 4 times that of the total US. If we look at just cities, in the City Data Crime Index, Norristown tops the national average by more than 140 points (though, at least we're not in the worst 100). We're far above cities in PA with comparable populations, like Wilkes Barre and Penns Hills.. Even Scranton, with double our population, has a much lower crime rate than we have. You have a 1 in 94 chance of becoming a crime victim in Norristown. The PA average is 1 in 282.
The thing is, our crime rate HAS come down. In 2006 it was something like 400 points over the national average. We had a lower population density then. 40 years ago, when the population was higher by nearly 25%, we had a much lower crime rate. So, sorry, Mr. Simpson, they aren't related.
In the same Facebook conversation, Mr. Simpson said "I do not believe that we can police our way out of the problem." According to the Municipal website, we only have 55 police offers, or about 1.6 for every 1,000 persons in town. The PA average is 2.71 officers per 1,000 residents. Scranton has about 2.1 per 1,000. The statistics prove that the more officers you have per 1,000 people, the lower your crime rate will be. I'm not saying police are the only solution, but a few extra officers would surely help.
I get very tired of people blaming the town for the problem, as if crime is part of our geographic identity. It's like racial profiling--they assume Norristown will have high crime simply because we're Norristown. Mostly you hear this from non-residents, or residents who haven't been here long. They imply that nothing can be done. That's just how Norristown IS.
Never before have I heard this stereotype voiced by a councilman. Safety and security ought to be council's highest priority. We shouldn't be hearing that Norristown's just like every other big city with crime problems. In fact, we shouldn't be hearing Norristown being stereotyped by council at all. We're a unique community with a lot of assets. We need a council who knows it, who'll stick up for us, and who'll strive to make things better.