Darcy Olsen

Public safety must be first priority of Phoenix leaders

Posted on July 31, 2006 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Darcy Olsen
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Phoenix's recent crime wave has put public safety in the headlines. As our police force works to make our streets safer, we should study ways to improve public safety.

A good place to start is with successful crime-fighting models like New York. Using hands-on leadership and statistics-driven deployment, New York's finest took back the streets. Since 1990, the murder rate has dropped 75 percent and rape, robbery and assaults have been halved.

Once the inspiration for Batman's Gotham City, New York is now the safest big city in America.

By comparison, Phoenix has the third-highest overall crime rate among the nation's 10 largest cities.

Our murder rate is double New York's, and almost three times higher than the national average. And in the last two years, our violent crime rate has surged. A recent Arizona Republic editorial dismissed the increase, saying crime rose in "nearly every other major American city" ("Playing politics with brutal crimes," Thursday). What the editorial didn't say was that Phoenix's violent crime increase was four times higher than the national increase, 10.4 percent compared with 2.5 percent.

The sources of crime are complex: abuse, poverty, and social forces all play a role. And criminality won't be solved with a single solution. But as former first deputy commissioner of the NYPD John Timoney puts it, "You can turn it around."

In 1967, John Timoney started as a beat cop in the South Bronx. Over two decades in the NYPD, he rose to become first deputy commissioner. He played a key role in New York's historic transformation that continues to keep Big Apple residents safe today. Even as the nation experiences the largest violent crime increase in 15 years, the FBI's Preliminary Crime Report for 2005 shows violent crime in New York is continuing to drop.

Timoney is clear about what it takes to bring down crime: "Political will is the very first step in the process." Here in Phoenix, have we seen the necessary political will to reverse escalating crime?

Over the past five years, the operating budget of the Phoenix Police Department has increased 28 percent. This has translated partly into a 12 percent increase in sworn personnel.

While these increases are a start, personnel haven't kept pace with Phoenix's rapidly growing population. In 2000, Phoenix had two officers per 1,000 citizens. At last count, the ratio dropped to 1.89. So while New York has more than four officers for every 1,000 citizens, Phoenix has less than two.

As Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris told The Republic, "To make Phoenix the safest major city in the country, we're going to have to have more officers in the future." Making funds available for new officers must be part of our fight against crime, and the resources are there. The city's General Fund increased almost 10 percent over the last fiscal year. The problem isn't resources; it's priorities.

Local officials need to recognize that providing more funding for public safety will be a key to making Phoenix safer. This may require cutting back on luxury projects like theater and redirecting funding to the police budget. But Phoenix residents will surely understand that the first business of government is to protect citizens and keep our community safe.

The Republic argued that those of us who question Phoenix City Hall's priorities are "playing politics" with Phoenix's brutal crime spree. Of course, no one blames the recent violence on any of our elected officials. But we all should agree on the need to discuss ways to make our community safer.

Even if that includes questioning City Hall's priorities.

The writer is president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

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