Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Community Policing

If you read my blog, it's likely you try to keep abreast of what's going on in Norristown, so you've probably heard the term "community policing" sometime in the last 3 years. The problem is, very few people know what it really means.

From conversations I've had with residents in person and on social media like Facebook and Nextdoor, most of us have this idea that community policing means the police are talking to the residents more, but everyone still feels the NPD is in charge of policing. The community is being policed. With a clear cut line between the two. When a bad thing happens, you hear a lot of folks say, "Where were the police?"

One person last week posted that the police ought to sit on side streets and in alleyways to catch the bad guys in town (he seemed to also imagine that there was a bad guy in EVERY alleyway in town). Think about how many officers we'd need to accomplish this all over town on all three workshifts. If we raised taxes to hire a thousand officers, some of the same people yelling loudly for more police would then start yelling about taxes.

Here's the real meaning of community policing ~ the community protects itself (without, of course, being vigilantes). The speaker at last night's observation skills workshop said it best: WE are responsible for keeping our own neighborhoods safe. The police are merely the service we use to accomplish this. We shouldn't be asking "Where were the police?" but "Where were the neighbors?"

We know (or SHOULD know) our neighborhoods better than any police officer. If you see someone walking around a neighbor's house, checking the windows, you'll probably know if that's a family member or someone you've never seen before. You know what activity is normal for your street and what isn't. If you see a stranger on your block trying to talk to kids, are you going to wait for a patrol car to go by on its own? No, you're going to call 911, and while you wait for them, why not go out and chat with the stranger yourself?

When you walk around town by yourself, do you wear ear buds? Do you text or play games on your phone? Do you look down at the ground as you walk, thinking about something you need to do for work, or about a family problem? If you answered yes to any of these questions, do you assume the police will magically appear if you get into trouble? Or if you do have the presence of mind to dial 911, do you assume your attacker will be patient until the cops come?

Just looking alert and aware of your surroundings can prevent you from becoming a victim. As you walk along, look at people you pass on the street. Smile and say "hi" (most people will smile back, at least). The more people who do this in town, the less crime we'll have. Why? Because the last thing criminals want is to engage with other people who can later ID them. They'll avoid blocks where people regularly catch the eye of and talk to passers-by. Friendliness is a great crime deterrent. And hey, it would also help give N-town residents a reputation for hospitality.

Crimes from 3/7 to 3/13
This sort of community policing is the reason crime is down in Norristown 35% since Chief Talbot took over. Residents are now partnering with the NPD to not only catch criminals, but prevent crimes altogether. You can help. Get to know our police officers, at least by sight if not by name. Go to the Coffee With A Cop events and introduce yourself, or to programs like the one at the library last night, or to the COMPSTAT meetings, or the occasional NPD Town Halls. I'm taking the 10-week Citizens Police Academy course this fall and I highly recommend it.

For the latest info on what crimes are being committed around town, go to this link. The site shows that most of our crimes at the moment are drug violations (blue on the map) and thefts from buildings or stores (dollar signs on the map--these aren't robberies, which is when the robber faces the victim and steals. Theft is when the victim isn't there or is unaware of the crime, like a break-in to an empty house or shoplifting).

Take responsibility for keeping your small part of your block safe. Keep an eye on not only your property, but the parts of the street, alley and neighbors' yards you can see from your house. If everyone in town did this, our crime rate would really plummet. Report crimes to 911. Report non-emergency activity to 610-270-0977.  If you can, join our Town Watch by calling 610-270-0459. 

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