The year 2015 will no doubt bring about continued focus on policing in a democratic society. When the dust settles, I hope we will see the return of federal funding for community policing initiatives.
My first community policing assignment in Duluth was funded through the federal "Weed and Seed" program. It focused on community policing as well as building strong neighborhoods through after-school youth and family programing. I recall when the funding began to dry up and Saturday youth activities were cut.
The very first Saturday after the programming was cut, several of the kids who were regulars at the youth center climbed onto the top of an apartment building and began tearing the roof off and throwing it down below. That sequence of events firmed my belief in the importance of having structured activities for kids, especially in underprivileged neighborhoods.
By 2000, the federal community policing money had almost dried up and was dealt another blow after 9/11. The federal government's focus changed from community policing to homeland security, and that is where the money went.
While the Duluth Police Department maintained its community policing focus, many departments in our country changed their policing philosophy in pursuit of funding, which is one of the reasons some departments are having problems today.
NBC reported the salary of police officers in the St. Louis, Mo., metropolitan area as low, including a wage of $10.50 an hour in the suburb of Hillsdale. How do you expect to get the best, brightest and highly educated workers willing to risk their lives for $10.50 per hour?
Additionally, Ferguson relies heavily on traffic fines to help balance their budget. Their revenue from court fines and forfeitures has tripled in the last 10 years, according to the online news outlet Quartz. This leads me to believe they were focused more on revenue generation than building relationships.
Community policing is more expensive than the traditional model of policing as it requires more staff. Unfortunately, the demands of police continue to grow. We have seen computer crimes rise as well as crimes against the vulnerable. Human trafficking is of growing concern. We log over 100,000 incidents a year, compared to 30,000 in the 1980s. I look at the political turmoil many communities face regarding their police departments and am thankful for the tremendous support given to our police department by Mayor Ness, City Council and citizens.