After reading a Daily Gazette article (“More eyes and ears needed,” April 12) I was struck by the fact that in the entire city of Schenectady, there were only about 100 active members of the Neighborhood Watch, despite the efforts of community leaders like Fred Lee.
Mr. Lee oversees the citywide watch program. He envisions increasing this number tenfold so that in a crisis, help is available until the experts arrive. Watch members do not chase down suspicious people. Rather, they are trained observers and can be trained as first responders in the case of disasters.
In community-based policing, officers still maintain law and order. But they move beyond just “catching” the bad guys to examining the specific conditions, including problems of disorder and neglect, that breed both minor and serious crimes.
People will talk about their concerns to familiar faces in the neighborhood. Community-based police officers and other trained workers can be those faces to which residents can turn for help.
Many programs that support community-based policing are old news to crime-prevention specialists — Neighborhood Watch, citizen police academies, graffiti cleanups, gun-buyback programs, citizen patrols, after-school programs, school resource officers and neighborhood mediation centers.
Community-based policing strategies have evolved over the past 25 years. We know now, for instance, that community-based policing is not a quick fix. Getting the public to cooperate with police can be difficult, especially in neighborhoods with antagonistic relationships between residents and the police.
Schenectady and other cities can do more to involve their residents in crime-prevention activities and organizations. The police must win the support of the public through regular meetings with residents and by delivering on any commitments they make to solve problems.
Community-based policing requires a long-term police commitment and the use of sufficient resources for establishing any long-lasting community partnership.
A major way for police departments to demonstrate the necessary commitments is by doubling the number of uniformed police engaged in community-based policing.
Impossible? No. This can be done, if the city of Schenectady establishes an all-volunteer auxiliary police unit.
In the United States, more than 200,000 volunteer police are already active in this work.
Schenectady County has had such a unit since the Korean War era, although its efforts have been largely limited to activities involving special events. Requirements for membership in this unit are posted online at: www.schenectadycounty.com/FullStory.aspx?m=797&amid=8280.
New York state has recently revamped its basic peace-officer training program. It requires a minimum of 99 hours of attendance, and it is applicable for all newly selected part-time auxiliary police candidates.
Such a course may be established by a peace officer employer or by a regional law enforcement academy. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services must approve the course, certify instructors and register successful peace officer course graduates.
The division also offers a wide variety of training services to criminal justice agencies and individuals across the state. A regional police training facility with available classrooms (especially during evenings) is available in the heart of downtown Schenectady.
The establishment of a unit of auxiliary police in Schenectady will greatly enhance the city’s ability to deliver on the promise of community-based policing by augmenting the resources available for the types of crime prevention activities discussed here.
Martin A. Greenberg is the director of research and education for the New York State Association of Auxiliary Police, Inc. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.