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The Beat Generation

Friday, September 1, 1995
We must restore a balance between citizen and police responsibilities, [for] effective social control cannot possibly be achieved by hired hands alone.

-- Herman Goldstein, Policing a Free Society

Americans live in fear. We live in the most criminally violent times in our nation's history. The level of street crime is between three and four times what it was in 1960, and the rate of violent crimes quadrupled between 1966 and 1990. People no longer feel safe walking to the corner store or letting their kids bike to the local park.

In healthy communities, individuals establish and enforce codes of conduct, both formal and informal. Litterers get a lecture. Speeders get yelled at. Unruly youths get a tongue-lashing. But in unhealthy communities, the fear of crime keeps people shut up in their homes (especially the elderly), cuts off commercial activity, alienates individuals from each other, and surrenders the streets to the very kind of disorderly activity that fuels crime in the first place. Community is eroded, and because individuals are afraid to maintain order, the community loses its lawful environment.

Until neighborhoods are safe again, they will not thrive economically or socially. Waiting for the government to make it all better is a losing strategy. People have to become more involved in ensuring their own security.

It is said that for every complex problem, there is a simple and elegant solution that is wrong. For crime, the simple answer is, "We need more cops and we need more prisons." Though extremely popular right now with politicians, this approach will ultimately do little to improve public safety. The best police force in the world cannot make safe a community in which people have no regard for the lives or property of others. Without question, swift and sure punishment of criminal activity is an important component of an effective crime policy. But the best defense against crime is not a thin, blue line, but a community of individuals respectful of others.

There is a great deal that the government can and should do to improve public safety, but first it must recognize that it needs help. Restoring public safety demands a renewed partnership between the police and the community. Police must reacquaint themselves with the people in the communities they serve, and communities must recognize that the brunt of the task of policing a free society does not lie with the police, but with citizens themselves.

Community Policing

From the time of America's founding, law enforcement has had a strong neighborhood foundation. In the early years of the Republic, male citizens in large U.S. cities were required to stand watch at night with no pay. Throughout most of America's history, in fact, citizens were expected to police their communities themselves -- at least part time -- as they went about their daily lives. The job of police officers was to support the community in keeping the peace.

Alexis de Tocqueville, who was particularly impressed by this, wrote, "In America, the means available to the authorities for the discovery of crimes and arrest of criminals are few. . . . Nevertheless, I doubt whether in any other country crime so seldom escapes punishment. . . . During my stay in the United States I have seen the inhabitants of a country where a serious crime had been committed spontaneously forming committees with the object of catching the criminal and handing him over to the courts. In Europe the criminal is a luckless man fighting to save his head from the authorities. In America he is an enemy of the human race and every human being is against him."

Direct community involvement doesn't mean vigilantes stringing up violators. Urban anthropologist Jane Jacobs explains, "The first thing to understand is that the public space -- the sidewalk and street peace -- of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. Rather, it is kept by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards established and enforced by the people themselves."

Except in extremely small geographic areas, it is not economically possible to put a cop on every corner. No police department is large enough -- nor should it be -- to serve as an occupying army. A community must police itself. There is no way that New York City's 37,000 police officers can control the city's 7.5 million residents. The police are there to help. For much of America's history, this was understood.

In the 1960s, however, the public began to forget its role in controlling crime and grew increasingly dependent on the police. Police departments became more professionalized and shifted their primary mission from peacekeeping to crime fighting. Rather than regular beats, foot patrols, and informal pressure on the unruly, police forces increasingly used motorized patrols, radio dispatch, and rapid response as their main tools. In the terminology of television culture, the "Andy of Mayberry" model was replaced by the "One-Adam-Twelve" approach.

Americans began to think of crimefighting as the job of police. The riots of the 1960s showed in violent detail how America's historic partnership between police and community had broken down. Police officers -- often in squad cars or behind desks at headquarters -- were spending more time with other officers than with citizens. The new policing methods had the effect of divorcing them from the community. The divorce was mutual: Many communities stopped policing themselves.

This alienation left everyone worse off. Americans are more dissatisfied with their police departments than ever before, and the police are straining under the weight of massive problems they are powerless to handle alone.

Swift and sure punishment for criminals is important, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that the courts can make us safe, any more than the police can. We will never really get a hold on crime in America until we move back to a society where kids in trouble can be turned around before they get in more trouble and are sent away to prisons to become hardened criminals. "The total impacts [of public policy on crime] are not going to be that great in a free society," says James Q. Wilson. "A free society depends on the conscience and reputations of individuals and the social norms of communities to maintain order. That is what has collapsed in America."

To use an analogy from the manufacturing world, we can't afford to depend on an outside referee to detect and fix the defective products of our society; far better to create a system that isn't producing so many defects in the first place. From this perspective, product quality is no longer the exclusive responsibility of the inspectors in the quality department; rather, it's everyone's concern. Families come first, police and courts follow.

With its emphasis on crime prevention, community policing can be a part of the total picture. "We currently see ourselves as feeding the criminal-justice system," says police chief Daryl Stephens of St. Petersburg, Florida. "What if we saw our primary responsibility as starving it?"

At its heart, neighborhood policing recreates the partnership between the police and the community. In essence, the police tell the community, "We will help you do your job." Variations of the idea are being introduced all over the country, from Jacksonville to Madison to Seattle.

For community policing to work, the neighborhoods have to be willing to help themselves. Explains San Diego police officer Jim Coleman, "It is not the teacher's fault, it's not the police officer's fault, it's not the court's fault. The community has to recognize it has a responsibility for governing its own value standards. . . . People choose the way they want to live, and police can't remove that responsibility. The police can't come in and restore order if the community doesn't raise its own value standard."

San Diego has led the nation in embracing a partnership with neighborhood groups, citizen patrols, and volunteer "officers" (see sidebar). To be sure, in America's toughest communities, where neighborhood control has been overrun by gangs, drug dealers, and a general sense of lawlessness, community policing of the San Diego model may not be enough. Community policing works best in the communities still controlled by law-abiding residents, not criminals. In the neighborhoods where criminals now hold sway, cops will be needed to help law-abiding citizens -- a majority in even the worst inner-city neighborhoods -- regain control and come out from behind their locked doors to augment the police presence. In the long run, however, community members themselves must take responsibility for making their neighborhoods unfriendly to criminals.

Street Patrols

A key component of community policing is getting more cops back on the neighborhood beat. "Beat integrity," the practice of charging a small group of officers with responsibility for a small area, has hardly been seen since the 1950s. Patrols can be conducted on foot, on bike, in a car, or some combination of these. The beat system increases the connection between law-abiding citizens and the police and gives citizens opportunities to express their concerns.

This sense of connection is evident in the community policing of officer Mike Elder, whose beat for the last two years has been a three-square-mile, lower-middle-class area on Indianapolis's south side. Elder's beat includes numerous vacant lots, some boarded-up buildings, and two of the city's worst public-housing projects. As in many cities, Indianapolis's urban sprawl makes it impractical for Elder to patrol his entire beat on foot. However, he makes up for this by spending a good part of each day walking around the housing projects and the neighborhood parks, checking in with store owners, and maintaining open office hours at his field office in the Clearstream housing project.

Elder is a reassuring presence to public-housing residents tired of living in fear. Before Elder set up shop at Clearstream, says one resident, "there would be gunfights in the project in the middle of the street in broad daylight." Another Clearstream resident, a single mother, says, "Before Mike came in, I wouldn't dare let my kids play outdoors because of the shootings and drug deals going down at all hours of the day and night. People living in projects want a normal life, too -- and we're getting there." After Elder started his beat, the number of service calls from the Clearstream projects to the police dropped from 1,500 in 1991 to 550 in 1993.

With an intense awareness of the neighborhood, community-based officers can stop crimes before they happen. The officer on the beat hears gossip from casual, informal contact with people. Elder knows most of the residents at his two housing projects. He can count on a dozen or so residents in each project to keep him informed of impending trouble by calling him on his beeper. If any drug dealing is taking place or any strangers are causing trouble, he'll know within a day.

Assigning officers to regular beats and emphasizing problem-solving can also prompt residents of troubled minority areas to look more favorably on the men and women in blue. Before Elder was assigned to their beat, residents of Clearstream didn't much trust the police. Residents only saw cops when they were responding to incidents, and viewed them as outsiders. With steady contact, Elder has built a relationship of trust. "If we tried to take Elder out of that beat, the residents would be marching on city hall within hours," jokes Michael Beaver, Indianapolis's director of public safety.

Most cops loathe beat patrols. Many police officers -- particularly those in middle management -- would prefer the safety of their desk jobs over venturing out onto the streets. Hitting the pavement is seen as a demotion by veteran cops, many of whom have worked hard to get off the beat and win an assignment to a specialty unit or to administrative work.

Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler learned the hard way that the opposition to community policing can be intense. When he was elected in 1992, just one cop worked foot patrol in Jersey City; Schundler wanted 300. The force hardly embraced the idea. "Comfortable jobs in all city departments were given as a reward for political service and loyalty," wrote Schundler in Policy Review (Summer 1994). "The patronage system has made assignments to street patrol intolerable."

The new mayor found himself battling with Jersey City's police union. When Schundler learned that two police officers spent their days delivering interoffice mail, he had them reassigned to street patrol. The police union filed a lawsuit to prevent the move, citing a contract clause that states: "Police work cannot be diminished except through contract negotiation." Like most people, Schundler can't understand how having officers patrol the street diminishes police work. He is fighting the suit.

Schundler cites union contracts -- supported by state arbitration rules -- as his biggest barrier to successful policing. "Our crime problem is not the result of our spending too little on policing," he says, "but rather of our getting too little policing for our money -- and the root cause of this problem is non-local government interference in police department management."

Combating Disorder

Many urban areas are marked by evidence of physical decay: boarded-up buildings, vacant lots strewn with litter, and graffiti-covered walls. This sense of community despair creates an aura of lawlessness that encourages criminal behavior.

In a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article titled "Broken Windows," James Q. Wilson and George Kelling argued that disorder in a community, if left uncorrected, undercuts residents' own efforts to maintain their homes and neighborhoods and control unruly behavior. "If a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired," they wrote, "all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. . . . One unrepaired window is a signal that no one cares, so breaking more windows costs nothing. . . . Untended property becomes fair game for people out for fun or plunder."

If disorder goes unchecked, a vicious cycle begins. First, it kindles a fear of crime among residents, who respond by staying behind locked doors. Their involvement in the neighborhood declines; people begin to ignore rowdy and threatening behavior in public. They cease to exercise social regulation over little things like litter on the street, loitering strangers, or truant schoolchildren. When law-abiding eyes stop watching the streets, the social order breaks down and criminals move in.

"Stable neighborhoods can change in a few months to jungles," declare Wilson and Kelling. Disorder also can have dire economic consequences. Shoppers will shun an area they perceive as being "out of control." One study analyzing crime in 30 different areas found that the level of disorder of a neighborhood -- more than such factors as income level, resident turnover, or racial makeup -- was the best indicator of an area's lack of safety.

For decades, most big-city police departments have devoted little effort to combating disorder. By allowing an accumulation of small infractions, this neglect creates an environment that generates big infractions.

The community-policing movement is beginning to change this. Community policing emphasizes giving neighborhoods a greater say in determining police priorities, a surefire way to bringing issues of physical and social disorder to the top of the police agenda. An important part of a community patrol officer's job is enforcing a community's norms of tolerable behavior and order. Beat officers can't impose their personal rules on a community, but they can help a community maintain its own standards. "You have to be given the latitude to enforce the laws in different ways in different communities," says Indianapolis's Elder.

Although calls for order maintenance have historically been associated mostly with white middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, today some of the loudest voices are coming from poor minority communities. Says Ace Backus, a Milwaukee community organizer, "In the nice white communities don't be drunk on the street, don't be throwing down litter, the cops will stop you. In the middle of the black ghetto you can do that and the police will drive past. It's reverse discrimination."

Problems, Not Symptoms

Conventional policing is incident-driven: A citizen calls 911 to report a crime and then the police show up. Much of the time, all officers can do at this point is take a report. By reacting to crime rather than trying to prevent crime, police treat only the symptoms, not the root causes of problems. The key to improving New York's subway was the emphasis on preemptive problem solving, an example of what policing experts refer to as "problem-oriented policing" (see sidebar).

Former San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen frames the issue this way: "Random patrol duty is little better than sleeping on duty."

In one large city, for example, a trucking company had 32 trailers burglarized in less than 18 months. A predictable routine developed: The owner would report the crime, the police would visit the yard, take a statement, and then wait for the next call from the owner. In desperation, the owner finally threatened to move his $13-million company out of the city unless something was done to stop the stream of break-ins.

This prompted the police department to abandon business as usual. An outside consultant was brought in, and police soon determined that the physical layout of the trucking yard was encouraging the break-ins. The officers talked the owner into improving the lighting and raising the fence. Police then worked with other city agencies to erect a barricade between the truck yard and the adjacent vacant city property that was being used as an escape route. Problem solved.

Some level of problem-solving occurs in every police department, but it is typically done in a haphazard fashion. San Diego is alone in making problem-solving a focal point of each police officer's daily duties. Because it depends on identifying recurring patterns of disruptive activity, problem-oriented policing depends on good information.

San Diego's crime analysis unit has set up a sophisticated computer tracking system that officers can tap into to get information on 60 types of problems, previous attempts to solve specific problems, and recurrent problems in different geographical areas. While problem-solving gives police officers some tools and the analytical framework for approaching community safety problems, community involvement is still a key component. "There are no long-term solutions to problems unless the community is involved," says Nancy McPherson, formerly the city's neighborhood-policing coordinator.

As already noted, people tend to equate the frequency of crime in an area with how the external environment "looks" and "feels." Visible disorder sends warning signals to our brains of impending danger. Disorder is a sign that the social mechanisms of control that characterize healthy neighborhoods have broken down, which in turn encourages lawlessness. To build safer neighborhoods, individuals and communities must exercise control of the physical environment in which they live.

Empowering Landlords

Police officers appreciate the role that landlords can play in keeping a neighborhood strong and safe. Historically, landlords in low-income, working-class neighborhoods adhered to the neighborhood's set of norms and refused to rent to individuals who, in the landlord's judgment, would not be a positive force in the neighborhood. This is because landlords, for economic reasons, desire essentially the same thing as neighbors do for social reasons: responsible and conscientious tenants who will respect the property of others.

In recent years, government regulations, civil-rights laws, and court rulings have made it almost impossible for landlords to turn away dubious renters or to evict destructive tenants from their apartments. The unintended consequence? Many working-class neighborhoods have been ripped apart by rental units that become crack houses.

Giving homeowners control of their property can help reduce crime. Almost by accident, the city of Milwaukee came up with a simple yet effective way for government to assist, instead of frustrate, landlords who want to maintain neighborhood norms. Marty Collins, a 15-year city employee, was looking for a way to improve the city's drug-addiction prevention program. Knowing that most drug dealing in Milwaukee occurred out of rental properties, Collins reasoned that the only people that really could control the situation are the landlords.

Collins surveyed Milwaukee landlords and found that 70 percent of them reported having had destructive tenants at one time or another, yet virtually no landlords were using tenant screening techniques. Why not? "For fear of getting their butts sued," says Collins. Milwaukee's landlords were largely unaware that legal methods were available to enable them to discriminate against prospective tenants with destructive histories. By taking simple precautions, such as requiring favorable recommendations from previous owners, running a credit check, and visiting the current home of prospective renters, homeowners can eliminate the bad apples and help keep their neighborhoods safe.

Most landlords were also unaware of three Milwaukee companies that provide a listing of all tenants who have been previously evicted from rental properties. Milwaukee now informs all landlords how to be more discriminating.

While Milwaukee deserves credit for giving landlords the legal leverage they need to protect their property, the city sometimes goes too far in holding landlords responsible for the actions of their tenants. If police receive two complaints about drug dealing at a rented property, Milwaukee undercover police will attempt a drug buy. If successful, the city sends a notice to the landlord instructing him or her to take actions to stop the property from being used for drug dealing. If the problem persists, the city takes the landlord to court and can ask for the property to be forfeited.

In essence, Milwaukee is asking the landlord to control their tenants' behavior or risk losing their property. Empowering landlords by allowing them to choose to whom they will and will not rent is one thing. Asking them to be responsible for the actions of their renters is quite another. Providing landlords with the legal assistance to screen and evict disruptive tenants is a step in the right direction, but we shouldn't expect landlords to act as chaperones for their tenants.

This trend toward relying on landlords to discipline tenants is ironic, for in many cases the most irresponsible landlord of all is the government. Much of the worst crime in America takes place in or around government housing projects. When Reuben Greenberg became the police chief of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1982, he thought it ludicrous that the government routinely rented units to the lowliest criminals of society. "No other landlord has to rent to child molesters, robbers, rapists, and arsonists. Why should people in public housing have to live with them?" asked Greenberg.

Working with city housing authorities, Greenberg set out to make the city's public housing the last place criminals would dare to set up shop. Prospective tenants were screened for criminal records. Tenants who engaged in illegal behavior were swiftly evicted. Through mostly common-sense measures that any sensible landlord would take, Charleston's public housing projects are now "the safest places to live in Charleston," says department spokesman Charles Francis.

Closing off Streets

Americans like to control their space. With their long driveways, high walls, and security systems, wealthier neighborhoods have never been known for their accessibility to outsiders. Wealthy city-dwellers have "doormen" that provide security for their apartment buildings. Middle-class suburbs have their own ways of discouraging strangers, including myriad cul-de-sacs and white picket fences. Residential community associations (RCAs) have taken the concept of designing for safety one step further. The typical RCA has walls, gates, cul-de-sacs, security systems, and an endless series of speed bumps.

In contrast, poor city neighborhoods are typically laid out in a grid format. "By allowing for lots of through traffic, grids compromise a neighborhood's integrity," says Judy Butler, the city of Houston's neighborhood coordinator. The grid format, while pleasing to city traffic engineers, makes neighborhoods susceptible to drive-by shootings and random through-traffic.

While some criticize the suburbs and RCAs for having a "fortress mentality," these communities provide residents with the security they desire, providing physical barriers that give people greater control over their living environment. These barriers not only keep strangers out, they mark the physical boundaries that define communities.

"Why not try to redesign the urban area to recapture the quality of life in the suburbs?" asks Oscar Newman, a city planner and architect. Newman is the country's leading expert on and proponent of creating "defensible space" in urban neighborhoods by closing off streets. Street closures, Newman has found, give residents greater control over the security of their neighborhood. Closures also broadcast a distinct message to potential criminals: This community is profoundly serious about deterring crime and anti-social behavior.

St. Louis has a long tradition of street closures. Beginning in the late 19th century, many streets in the wealthiest neighborhoods were deeded to residents instead of the city. Each of the streets was represented by an association that often also owned the sewers and water mains. At the time, St. Louis had shoddy public services, so the private streets were a way of attracting homebuyers by assuring them of reliable services such as water supply and street lighting.

In the 1950s, St. Louis was in decline. Crime was rising, property values were falling, and much of the middle class was fleeing to the safer and cleaner suburbs. Left behind were poorer residents, less likely to be homeowners and more likely to be transient. To stop the flight of middle-class homeowners out of the city, the city began to revive its private street program. Neighborhoods of all income levels were allowed and encouraged to petition the city to convert their public streets to private ownership. Many middle-class neighborhoods took the city's offer: They formed homeowner associations, put up gates, and assumed the costs and responsibilities of maintaining the streets themselves.

Since the mid-1970s, more than 1,000 St. Louis streets have been closed off and privatized. By making these neighborhoods more distinct, street closures have made it easier to identify intruders and keep out unwanted visitors. The result: lower crime rates and higher property values compared to adjacent neighborhoods, according to Newman. It also has made the neighborhoods more cohesive, as they become safe places for children to play and conduits for social activity. "With traffic flow limited to an occasional moving car, the street has become an extension of the front yards of the abutting houses: an area where children play and adults can meet and socialize," writes Newman. Street closures can restore the balance between mobility for cars and livability for residents.

Until recently, St. Louis was about the only city that made use of street closures in urban settings. But the increasing levels of crime, gang activity, and drive-by shootings throughout urban America are prompting other cities to experiment with street closures. Cities as diverse as Dallas, Chicago, Houston, Dayton, and Fort Lauderdale are aggressively closing off streets. Though St. Louis is unique in allowing a transfer of ownership to residents, these urban enclaves are proving an effective way for a community to regain control of its environment.

Dayton, Ohio, is home to one of the country's most ambitious street-closure experiments. Like many aging urban communities, Five Oaks, an integrated, lower-middle-class neighborhood in Dayton, found itself in decline. Homeowners were leaving, rental properties were poorly maintained, and drug dealers and prostitutes had set up shop. Located near the freeway, Five Oaks was an ideal location for crack houses. Experts predicted that within two years much of the neighborhood would be a disaster area.

In 1992, desperate neighborhood leaders turned to street closures. The city called in Oscar Newman to assist. A year later, 34 streets and 26 alleys were closed off in Five Oaks. Neighborhood residents divided Five Oaks into ten mini-neighborhoods to enable law-abiding residents to confront the problems in their immediate area.

Only a year after the streets were closed, substantial improvement was visible. Cut-through traffic, previously a big problem in the neighborhood, fell by two-thirds. Automobile accidents and traffic speed levels also declined dramatically. After dropping the previous two years, housing sales surged 55 percent, while the average purchase price of a home increased 15 percent. Violent crime was cut in half; overall crime plunged by 26 percent. Most importantly, Five Oaks residents felt much safer and in control of their immediate surroundings. "I have four little kids," said one neighborhood homeowner. "My kids can now play out in the yard. It's been a blessing for my family."

Reclaiming Public Parks

Another problem of "space" in many cities (and some suburbs too) are local parks. Instead of serving as a place for kids to play and families to picnic, many parks have become gathering places for gangs and drug dealers. Instead of serving as a common area that knits the community together, many neighborhood parks are tearing communities apart.

City officials refer to such parks as "orphan" parks because there is no real or perceived "ownership" of the park, and so no one takes care of it. City hall cannot possibly provide the same level of attention as the people who use the park every day. Local involvement is needed to make small parks a positive force in the neighborhood; only neighborhood residents, the people who use the park, can provide this.

The inspiring story of San Antonio's Lee's Creek Park proves the point. "It's not every 41-year old that can leave a legacy for his children," says San Antonian Bill Lucas as he looks over the plans for Lee's Creek Park, a project that engrossed him for over a year. Lucas does not work for the city planning or recreation department -- he is a sales manager for Bekins Moving Systems.

Donated by the Lee family to the city, the park is located in a declining area of the city with swelling gang problems. After 10 years, it was still little more than a vacant lot. Then along came Bill Lucas and the local chapter of Optimist Club International, the 75-year-old "friends of youth" organization. In conjunction with around 35 neighborhood families, the Optimist Club transformed the weed-infested vacant lot into a thriving community park—without the aid of taxpayer money. Creating Lee's Creek Park was a true volunteer effort. A bridge over the creek was a gift from an Optimist Club member in memory of his wife. A running track was donated by a construction company. The sweat to clear the lot and plant the trees was contributed by neighborhood residents and even some nonresidents, including Mrs. Lee herself. "All we are doing is recreating in a small way neighborhood involvement like it was in the 1800s in America when people used to pitch in and help build their neighbors' houses and barns," says Lucas.

When the park was finished it was turned back over to the city, which agreed to maintain it. Lucas is confident the park will not fall victim to "orphan park" syndrome. "Our idea is for the neighbors to create ownership opportunities for themselves," he said. To do so, ownership committees were created and vested with control of certain blocked out sections of the park that they are responsible for beautifying and maintaining. The sense of ownership is critical. "If the park were given to us we wouldn't respect it," says Lucas. "We can see it in our own children. Make them earn it, and they own it."

Turning over partial ownership or management of city parks to nonprofit groups and neighborhood associations is often the best way to ensure they remain a public asset. New York City's Neighborhood Open Space Coalition has assumed control of hundreds of abandoned lots and parks in this way, turning many dangerous eyesores into gardens. Nearly one-fourth of the city's nearly 1,500 public parks are now cared for by community associations under the Operation Green Thumb program.

Private groups usually have more success ensuring the park is in constant use, which is the key to keeping a park safe. The nonprofit Central Park Conservancy has raised more than $100 million for New York City's Central Park since its founding in 1980. It has taken over the care of trees, lawns, and plants and provides more than half of the park's operating costs. By 1989, 72 percent of Central Park users said the park felt safer after the conservancy got involved. Crime dropped 59 percent and robberies plummeted 73 percent. The drop in crime is attributed to the large increase in park activities put on by the conservancy. Good uses drove out the bad uses.

Crisis Point

What is the future of public safety in America? One possibility is that we will continue to ask police to attempt the impossible: To create safe communities without the communities' help. Under this scenario, there will be more cops, more prisons -- and more crime.

The other possibility is more appealing. We can learn from America's most innovative public-safety models -- San Diego's problem-oriented, neighborhood policing; New York's subway-disorder reduction; Milwaukee's landlord empowerment policies; and Dayton's Five Oaks street closures -- to develop a new vision of policing America's neighborhoods and downtowns where police departments are closer to the communities they serve and citizens and communities take a more active role in protecting their safety.

Under this scenario, America could see a future with fewer police and more security. We are fast approaching a crisis point in our country as crime and fear of crime paralyze our nation. How we respond will go a long way in determining what we become as a nation.