Is it time to consider abolishing the Hardwick Police Department?
As we continue the examination of regional policing, we should at the same time examine what the department actually accomplishes for our communities, and alternative crime prevention programs that might better serve residents.
Anyone who even glances at the police report in the Hardwick Gazette knows that the bulk of our policing resources go to giving out speeding tickets. And if you’ve been the victim of a burglary, you also know there is very little the department can do. You file a complaint, and if you have insurance, you get a check. As a result, the only criminals ever caught are the nefarious speed demons.
Of course, officers are also trained in responding to domestic violence calls. This is probably the most useful, and dangerous, service they perform. Without a local department, victims of domestic violence could wait two hours for the state police to respond.
But are there other, more effective crime prevention strategies? The answer is a strong yes, and even when other options might not currently exist, that doesn’t prevent us for developing our own solutions.
First we have to consider some of the root causes of crime:
Poverty and financial insecurity.
Drug and alcohol abuse.
Few job and educational opportunities.
Histories of family violence.
Even a lack of programs for youth.
We are better prepared to deal with some of these issues than most big cities. Our area schools and communities provide a number of programs so that our children have productive and meaningful, as well as fun, activities. AWARE has developed some important innovations in domestic violence prevention.
And yet we can do more.
So what would Hardwick look like without a police department?
We would be able to invest the money we save into expanded crime prevention programs:
First, provide assistance to families in need for home maintenance and repairs. Require landlords who own buildings along main street or rental housing to adequately maintain their property. Studies have shown that people with pride in their homes and communities are invested in the future. Communities that repair and improve dilapidated buildings and maintain property see a reduction in crime.
Expand after school programs and opportunities throughout the village. Give our kids something to do, places to gather and play. Stimulate their minds and make sure that they are exercising their bodies. Expand programs of educational enrichment and encourage all children to think early about college or career training and prepare. With the money saved from policing, we might even be able to provide assistance to families in need so that local kids can continue their education after high school.
Develop mandatory local drug and domestic violence prevention programs in the schools. We can do more to reduce crime and violence by educating our children. Good programs actually work. By reducing drug use, we can reduce drug related crimes like burglary and drunk driving. By teaching young women what to do in violent relationships and teaching young men to respect women, we can end the cycle of violence.
Develop truly innovative programs to respond to domestic violence. These are dangerous situations, and need an immediate response from well-trained personnel. By working with experts such as AWARE, it seems obvious that Hardwick could develop a response system that will become the envy of rural communities. Since we rely on trained volunteers for many emergency services, one possibility would be to expand their training or develop a team of deputized volunteers who would be available to respond, provide assistance to victims, and intercede until state police arrive.
Develop real community-based crime prevention. Instead of a police department, we need a constable. When was the last time an local officer came to your door and asked if you’ve had any problems in the last year? When was the last time you even thought about talking with an officer? A constable with the responsibility to introduce himself or herself to all residents, to work with our kids and teach them about the law, to coordinate drug, alcohol, and violence prevention programs, to facilitate assistance to families in need – such a person would do more to prevent crime and make our community a better place than our current officers and squad cars. The constable could coordinate our “first response” volunteers for situations of domestic violence, work with troubled residents at risk, and secure state, federal, and private resources for crime prevention and community development.
Maybe residents feel more comfortable with an established police force. Even if that is the case, we are not prevented from examining all the options we might be able to pursue, from regional policing to transforming what we mean by law enfocement. Is it time to abolish the Hardwick Police Department? Maybe not. But it is time to consider its abolition and what crime prevention programs we could build in its place.