Who is responsible for public safety?


Jimmy Johnson is arrested for burglary; it turns out he has broken into several homes and garages, taking residents’ valuables and crippling their sense of safety and security. Common reactions are: “Where were the police?” “Don’t we need more frequent police patrol?” and “Why didn’t the police catch him during the first burglary?”

Jimmy Johnson grew up without discipline or boundaries in a “well-to-do” family; his parents frequently left him alone. He was often truant from school and didn’t learn to read well. He got into trouble with other kids and started stealing small items from stores. He eventually became a burglar.

We know through Peter Benson’s research at the Search Institute that when the majority of 40 “assets” are present in a child’s life, young people will lead constructive, positive lives. Those assets include family support, other adult relationships, a caring neighborhood, parental involvement in schools, youth programs, a religious community and bonding to school. Let’s review: family, adults, neighborhood, schools, parents, religious community — that’s just about all of us. We all have a role and responsibility to help young people succeed and increase the safety of our communities.

Returning to the burglaries that Jimmy committed, 40 percent were through unlocked doors. Who is responsible for that? Jimmy is responsible for the crimes he commits, and you don’t deserve to be victimized simply because you forgot to lock a door. However, it’s also true that working together with your block club and your neighbors, you can create an environment that will deter people like Jimmy from seeing your properties as easy targets.

Opinion: Who is responsible for public safety?

Lock your doors, cars and garages. You and your neighbors know better than the police who belongs and who doesn’t; what’s suspicious for your neighborhood and what is not. Call 911 when you see someone who appears suspicious, especially on your or your neighbor’s property. We all have a responsibility to prevent crime by securing our homes and cars, increasing our personal safety, watching out for each other, and creating or joining a block club.

So what are the police responsible for? The Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD), crime-prevention specialists and officers have a role in prevention, problem solving, intervention and investigation. We first want to prevent crime through education on home security and personal safety, and by organizing neighbors to watch out for each other. We can provide information about risk factors and where and when crime is committed to help residents better understand how to prevent crime.

Crime-prevention specialists, beat officers and problem-properties officers also work in the community to get to know residents and business people, to prevent crime and solve problems. Problem solving often involves partnering with residents, businesses, schools, churches and other organizations. Those partnerships are an essential way we “police” — by working with others and leveraging more resources and solutions.

If crime isn’t prevented or problems solved, the police intervene by responding to your 911 calls for help. That is a major way in which most people experience the police. We also intervene on your complaints with an undercover response through our Community Response Team. After a police response, arrest and written report, crimes are investigated if there are enough elements to investigate. Investigation and follow-up is the last role for the police in this continuum. The next stage is the criminal justice system — prosecuting cases, courts, trials and sentencing, if there is a guilty verdict or plea agreement.

The police capacity in the Third Precinct for these roles includes 105 officers (as of Jan. 1) for 911 response, problem properties, beats and undercover work; four crime prevention specialists; 14 sergeants; five property-crimes investigators; and five lieutenants. The officers responding to 911 calls work on three different shifts; they are assigned by sectors/districts so they become familiar with who lives in the sector, as well as its chronic offenders. Depending on the time of day and day of the week, there are approximately nine to 22 officers patrolling in the Third precinct. Additional officers from the department’s centralized Special Operations and Traffic divisions are often in the precinct.

Let’s return to Jimmy Johnson. First, he has to be accountable for his crimes; there must be consequences. But what can be done about future Jimmy Johnsons? We all have a responsibility. What is your role?

If you don’t know what your role can be, check with your neighborhood association, visit the city’s website, www.ci.mpls.mn.us, or contact the crime-prevention specialist in your precinct. Information is available on the MPD website, www.ci.mpls.mn. us/police, or by calling your respective precinct: First Precinct 673-5701; Second Precinct, 673-5702; or Third Precinct 673-5703.

Inspector Lucy Gerold is commander of the MPD’s Third Precinct and is a Seward resident.