Posts tagged ‘citizen involvement’

Don’t Be a Bystander

Berger/AP

Last week, outside of a homecoming dance held at Richmond High School, in Richmond, Calif., a 15-year-old girl was gang raped and sexually assaulted for over 2 hours by a handful of young men while onlookers watched. It was not until one student overheard others bragging about it at the dance that the police were called to the scene. When they arrived, they found the young woman half-naked near a picnic table, less than a block from the entrance to the school dance. (source)

Five suspects have now been charged in the rape and beating of the girl. But what is more astounding is that roughly 12-20 people (according to accounts) witnessed the gang rape over the 2-hour span and did absolutely nothing about it. In fact, some took pictures with their cell phones.

“She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized by several suspects who were obviously OK enough with it to behave that way in each other’s presence. What makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it.” — Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan (source)

The Bystander Effect

Some psychologists ascribe the behavior of the onlookers to “The Bystander Effect.” According to studies, individuals are less likely to intervene in an emergency/crisis if there are other people around:

“When something unusual happens, we look to others to figure out how we should react. If we see other people doing nothing, we usually conclude that nothing should be done. The problem occurs when everybody assumes the same thing, a phenomenon that psychologists call ‘pluralistic ignorance.’” (source)

That makes us all sound like mindless animals, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, many studies have found that this is the case, more often than not.

Stand Up. Say Something. Call 911.

It took over 2 hours for someone to call police to the rescue of this teen girl. In the recent case of Phillip Garrido, all his neighbors thought he was creepy and probably up to something illegal. But because no one was willing to push the matter, Jaycee Duggard was imprisoned in his backyard for 18 years.

We might think it is uncomfortable to intervene in a domestic dispute. Or we might think that someone else will call 911. We may even fear for our own safety if we witness the victimization of another. But studies have shown that when people know about the Bystander Effect, they are less likely to sit idly by while someone else is in trouble.

So consider this your education. Don’t be a victim of the Bystander Effect. When you see someone in trouble, being assaulted or victimized; stand up, say something, and call the police. You may prevent this type of atrocious act from happing to another teen girl outside a high-school dance.

For other perspectives on this case:
Rape: America’s Least Reported Crime
Bystanders No More: Teaching Kids to Respond to Violent Crime
Friend of Gang Rape Victim Blasts School Officials Over Safety
Richmond High Rape—What Do We Do With This?

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November 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

‘Zero Tolerance’ May Harm More Than it Helps

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

Six-year-old first grader, Zachary Christie, was recently at the center of a debate over a school district policy when he brought a camping utensil to school. The tool looked like a pocket knife and contained a fork, spoon, can opener, and a small knife. For bringing a deadly weapon to school, Zachary was suspended for five days and was prohibited from returning to Downes Elementary School until after 45 days at an alternative school. Zach says he brought the tool to school so he could eat his pudding. (source)

The Christina School District, in Newark, Delaware, has a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy against bringing dangerous items to school, spurred mostly by safety concerns raised by Columbine and other school shootings. But after public outcry over the extreme sentence for a 6-year-old who wanted to eat pudding, the Christina School District decided to reexamine it’s harsh policy. “We need to recognize the cognitive level of these kids,” said school board member John Mackenzie. “We need to provide a little leeway.”

Political Rhetoric

“Zero-tolerance” is great political phrases. When a politician or a school board member up reelection uses it, they’re seen as “tough” on crime and someone who is protecting the public from all the bad people out in the world who want to harm them. But a one-size-fits-all approach to punishing criminals is rarely productive and can often be harmful to both the criminal and society.

Drug Policy

For example, ANY drug offense will bar the offender from receiving any future federal student aid money. This zero-tolerance policy means that any person convicted of possession of any amount of controlled substance can never receive federal loan or grant money to attend college. I realize that this punitive measure is meant as a deterrent to keep kids off drugs, but it also harms ex-drug users by denying them any help in getting an education and turning their lives around. On the other hand, if you are a child molester, rapist, or murderer, you can receive federal student aid without any problems.

Sex Offender Laws

In addition, sex offender residency restrictions are very popular for obvious reasons: no one wants a convicted sex offender living next door to them or next to a school or playground. However, overly harsh restriction laws also prevent former offenders from finding descent housing, pushing them to edges of society where their likelihood of re-offending is actually higher—as evidenced by the case of Philip Garrido. Offender residency restriction laws have also been used to keep sex offenders from attending church and receiving counseling, and, in Florida, has created a homeless sex offender camp underneath a bridge where over 100 registered sex offenders live, creating a public health and safety concern. These one-size-fits-all policies not only punish violent sex offenders like rapists and child molesters, but—in some states—punishes those who have urinated in public or had sex with their high school girlfriend after they turned 18.

Get Smarter

As citizens, we need to step back from zero-tolerance rhetoric and take a smarter approach to handling criminals in our society—not a “tougher” approach. Fortunately, the Christina School Board reversed its zero-tolerance policy and allowed for the age and cognitive ability of the perpetrator to be taken into account when assigning punishment. Now that Zach can go back to school, what has he learned from the whole experience? I’m sure he’s learned not to take a camping tool to school anymore, but how will this experience affect the way he views teachers, rules, law enforcement, and any other form of authority from now on? Will he see them as allies and protectors, or will he see them as vindictive enforcers who would rather punish instead of teach? For his sake and for ours, I hope it is the former.

Check out this video of the Christina School District debating the policy, as well as reactions from concerned parents:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

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October 15, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention just released their study, Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey. The study included over 4,500 juveniles age 17 and younger and covered topics from bullying, to child maltreatment, to sexual victimization. Here are some interesting findings:

  • Children 7-10 years old are the most likely to experience physical assault/bullying from siblings and peers
  • Nearly 1 in 10 surveyed had been sexually victimized, and nearly 20% of all girls are sexually victimized by the time they are 17
  • 1 in 5 children suffer maltreatment (physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and more) by the time they are 17
    Children 10-13 are at the highest risk for kidnapping than any other age group
  • Overall, adolescents age 14-17 are at the highest risk for witnessing or being the victim of physical abuse and sexual victimization of all types

Any violence against children is too much violence against children. Talk to your kids about what they can do to protect themselves from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Foster a relationship with your children that is open and honest, where they can feel safe talking to you about these issues. Overall, as adults and parents, we need to be the examples for our children. If we are physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive to them or others—or let abuse we see go unreported—they will learn from us.

Let’s all work together to stop violence against children. Here’s one organization that is trying to help: www.darkness2light.org. They have great resources for parents for raising awareness and combating child sexual abuse.

Read the entire results of the study here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227744.pdf

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October 12, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Fight Crime: Keep Kids in School

I’m not sure this is really earth-shattering news, but high-school dropouts are far more likely to commit and be involved in crimes than those who graduate. But a study commissioned by California lawmakers, found that high-school dropouts cost the state as much as $1.1 billion in law enforcement costs every year. The study found that by cutting the dropout rate in half, the state would save more than a half a billion dollars annually (source).

“Dropout Prevention Is Crime Prevention”

Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca, who recently testified in front of the US senate on behalf of school-based crime prevention efforts, said of the study, “Dropout prevention is crime prevention. Schools need better tools for identifying potential dropouts so they can target interventions at the kids who need them most.”

Law Enforcement Officials are hoping that the results of the study will encourage the Governor to sign a bill requiring schools to accurately report dropout rates and identify signs that a student is at high-rick for dropping out. These statistics may help future policy makers implement programs to target at-risk youth for intervention before they decide to stop going to school.

Identifying At-Risk Youth

As I expressed earlier, I’m not sure anyone doubts that high-school dropouts are more likely to be involved in criminal behavior. And I say this because I think most people who went to high school have observed the statistics first hand. The kids who were always skipping class, involved in drugs, and had problems with the police were the ones we rarely saw at graduation ceremonies. And although I agree that schools need more money to fund programs that help at-risk youth graduate, I’m not sure we need a study to tell us which students are at risk.

Giving Schools Resources to Prevent Crime

Although public schools receive a lot of flack for not educating our children properly, but—in general—teachers, councilors, administrators, and other students don’t have a hard time identifying who is at a high-risk for dropping out. What they lack are resources.

To fight future crime, we as citizens need to support measures in our cities and communities that give schools the resources they need, not only to educate our children, but to help at-risk students stay in school, get an education, and stay off the streets. Crime prevention is more than locking our doors and leaving the porch light on, it is supporting local programs to help children avoid a life of crime before it starts.

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September 25, 2009 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Preventing Abuse of Power by Civilian Law Enforcement Volunteers

The Wall Street Journal—in the Economy section none-the-less—is reporting that the economy has caused a significant increase in civilian volunteers working with law enforcement:

“The National Association of Citizens on Patrol, a Corona, Calif., nonprofit that promotes civilian volunteerism in law enforcement, says there are about 5,000 citizen patrol units working alongside police departments in the U.S., up 25% from 2008.”

Although getting more citizens involved in crime prevention efforts by partnering with local law enforcement is normally a good thing, the recent surge in civilian patrols has also created some problems. The Wall Street Journal reports that a handful of communities are having problems with civilian police volunteer going overboard in their duties by hitting citizens with cars, firing at suspects, threatening neighbors, and (in at least one instance) killing a neighbor’s dog.

Citizen Involvement is a Good Thing

Let me first reiterate: citizen involvement in law enforcement is a good thing. Neighborhood watch groups and civilian volunteers help keep our neighborhoods safe and assist law enforcement to conduct low-level duties, saving tax dollars. But every once in a while there is a bad apple, a person who lets their minuscule amount of authority go to their head and abuses the position they have been given or assigned.

Leave Law Enforcement to the Officers

It is important to keep in mind that, even though we have been tasked with patrolling a neighborhood to keep it safe, the authority to enforce the law rests squarely on the shoulders of our local law enforcement officers. Under no circumstances should a civilian volunteer or block watch captain take the law into their own hands.

Our Responsibility as Citizen Volunteers

As civilians, we have the ability to observe and report crime, but not to enforce it or punish suspected offenders. And simply because we may have been given some responsibility by our local law enforcement agency, it does not mean that we have any power over any other civilian.

Overly-eager civilian volunteers or overly gung-ho block watch captains who take measures beyond their assigned duties harm community watch efforts. Going beyond mandated duties and powers breeds a mistrust of civilians on the part of law enforcement and dissuades other citizens from getting involved with community-based crime prevention efforts.

As a rule of thumb, if you are a civilian volunteer, always err on the side of backing off and alerting police to a situation rather than trying to deal with it yourself. Escalating a situation only leads to community mistrust in civilian volunteer efforts and could result in harm to you or other community members.

Lets work with law enforcement—be their eyes and ears on the street—but not try and BE law enforcement.

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September 11, 2009 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Rooting Out Sex Offenders, Taking Responsibility For Our Own Neighborhoods

Although the story of Jaycee Lee Duggard has put local law enforcement under the spotlight, and the local police chief has admitted errors, there is one group that hasn’t received much criticism at all for its mishandling of the situation: the neighbors.

Neighborhood Suspicions

I’ve read and heard about the many neighbors who thought Phil Garrido was creepy. And many of them suspected he was probably doing something bad or illegal. In fact, I have read accounts that neighbors even suspected sexual acts were being committed in the backyard, and that children were being kept back there. On one occasion a neighbor called the police, but nothing came of it, so they let the matter drop.

Why didn’t these neighbors—who knew Garrido was a sex offender—voice their concerns earlier or follow up with the police officers? Maybe it was for fear of wrongly accusing an innocent man, or maybe they just didn’t want to get involved.

Taking Responsibility

As citizens in our communities it is our duty to keep our neighborhoods safe. Granted, police have the specific duty to enforce the law when it is broken, but they cannot do their jobs without our help.

One of the lessons we need to take away from this unfortunate case, is that WE are ultimately responsible for the safety of our community—not law enforcement. We need to break out of our shells, talk to our neighbors, and communicate our concern with them. Knowing that other people share our concerns, makes it easier to report crimes, and work together to keep our neighborhoods safe.

If an incident is not resolved to your satisfaction, contact your local law enforcement agency again. Talk to your neighbors and start a coalition to resolve continuing concerns with law enforcement or the local city council, if necessary. I recently heard a law enforcement officer say that if you strongly feel that something is not right, but your neighbor has an 8-ft fence, get a 10-ft ladder and see for yourself what is going on.

Ultimately, ceding our neighborhood protection duties to law enforcement leaves us without control over our own homes, families, and communities. The police cannot be in all places at all times, be we are in our communities all the time. Let’s take responsibility, get involved, and take back our neighborhoods.

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September 8, 2009 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Design Your Neighborhood Against Crime

Lately, there has been a widespread trend toward use of web 2.0 tools and social media in law enforcement. Although these tools are great for communication and maintaining connections between citizens and law enforcement, they—in and of themselves—will not decrease crime significantly. Sure, web 2.0 crime mapping can provide an advantage to neighborhood watch groups, but public-facing crime mapping will not necessarily reduce crime if it is not coupled with a variety of other personal crime-prevention strategies.

What we’re talking about is not simply looking at the results of crime, through crime mapping, statistics, and sharing crime tips through Facebook, but using that information to target physical aspects of the community that encourage crime. For neighborhood watch groups this means not just watching out for crime, but actively paying attention to physical aspects of your community that may increase chances for crime.

Physical Aspects of Your Neighborhood

Look around your community. How many neighbors have their porch light on at night? How many lawns look unkempt? How many houses have bushes under their windows? How many houses have large windows facing the street? How many houses have fences? The answers to these questions may help you root out some aspects that make your neighborhood more attractive to criminals.

Strategies

Overall street appearance, like nicely manicured lawns, attractive bushes, and accent lighting, sends a message to criminals that the homeowners care about their property and keep an eye on it—and might have security systems. Unkempt lawns and neglected trees and shrubs, are a sign that maybe other aspects of the home are untended too, like door and window locks.

Street and porch lighting deter criminals who generally don’t want to be in the spotlight. And, coupled with street-facing windows, make criminals feel uncomfortable, like they are being watched and could easily be identified.

At first, you would think that high fences would keep criminals out, but that is not always true. Waist-high fences or shrubs lining your property actually provide two benefits: they act as a barrier that is awkward to cross, and they give you street visibility. With high fences, you won’t know a criminal is coming until he hops the fence or enters the gate. With a waist-high barrier, you can them coming from a mile away.

Finally, there is a very simple way to block access to your windows, plant thorny bushes under them. I know it sounds kind of silly, but faced with the prospect of pushing his way through a thorn bush to get to your bedroom window, most criminals will pass your windows up for easier targets.

Solutions

These are all aspects of your property and neighborhood that you can control. Talk to your neighbors about implementing strategies to deter criminals before they even get to your house. In addition, you can talk to your city council about street-lighting issues as well as public signage (like neighborhood watch signs) and other physical aspects of your neighborhood that are city property.

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September 4, 2009 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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