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Abstract

Crime is an insidious problem that afflicts most cities. This vice is challenging because perpetrators often live and blend with the community.  Therefore, for a city fight crime, law enforcement agencies must collaborate with the local population to cultivate a culture of trust. A rapport between citizens and enforcement agencies must give rise to a criminal justice system where the flow of information from the source to levels where such information can be acted upon is smooth. To create an efficient paradigm such as the one contemplated above; often crime prevention models are needed to device a mechanism for good policing. To demonstrate how cities can deploy crime prevention models to deter crime, this paper provides a proposal for combating crime for Odessa, a city in West Texas.

Keywords: Criminal justice Crime prevention, crime rate, prevention model and enforcement

Introduction

The American criminal justice system is not just interested in enforcing corrections to criminals. The system is interested in the safe co-existence of the nation’s citizens. This means that their programs seek to limit the incidents of crime within its jurisdiction. Crime prevention strategies often involve a number of potential fronts like law enforcement, the courts or the corrections processes. The success of a crime prevention strategy heavily leans on the conduct of law enforcement agent. So far, collaboration with the community has proved to be the best mode of operation in crime prevention. This collaboration has however been hindered by the mistrust between the officers of the law and the citizens. A better solution for the city of Odessa in this case would thus be the Citizen’s Academy to foster a better relationship between the police department and the city’s citizens. While Texas as a state has a ratified mechanism to detect and prevent crime, the city of Odessa has continued to register high rates of crime thus a Citizen’s Academy would in this case be a credible approach to crime prevention within the city. 

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A Summary of the Jurisdiction

Odessa is a city in West Texas with a population of about 111,000 people (Gold, 2013). This city is relatively small, compared to the major cities in the United States but the population size places it amongst the larger cities. It has about 30,000 families, with the median income per family being $27,869 (Gold, 2013). By American standards, this means that Odessa is not exactly a wealthy city. Most of the families are barely in the middle income bracket. As of 2015, estimates showed that at least 19% of the city’s population in Odessa lived below the poverty line (Ura, 2015). Odessa is known to depend on the oil industry, like most of the other cities in Texas. Recently however, the city has also been able to diversify and profit from the logistics industry for road and rail transport. The city’s police department has over 180 sworn officers who are dedicated to keeping the city’s citizens safe. Odessa’s annual budget for the police is estimated to be about $26 million for a city of over 110,000 people (Gold, 2013). In terms of the portion of the criminal justice system that this proposal will address, the Citizen’s Academy can be effective for both adult and juvenile cases considering that it will focus on gathering information from citizens who are in close proximity with the potential offenders.   

Analysis of Current Trends

In terms of crime, Odessa has not been spared from the upward surge of violent crimes in the US. Based on the SARA model, it can be noted that the security in Odessa needs some prompt response before it gets worse. In 2014, the city had 496 cases of violent crime and in 2015, the number grew to 589 (Ura, 2015). While there were 4 murder cases in 2014, there were 6 in 2015. There were 72 cases of robbery in 2014 and in 2015; they had 79 cases (Solomon, 2015). Again, it was noted that while in 2014 there were 392 cases of aggravated assault, last year the city had over 472 cases (Solomon, 2015). There were also 50 more cases of burglary in 2015 than there were in 2014, and 40 more cases of car theft (Solomon, 2015). Generally, crime went up between 2014 and 2015 creating a dire need for new measures for crime prevention in the area (Solomon, 2015). In line with the federal recommendations on community policing, the city has a neighborhood watch program that encourages cooperation between the residents and the police force. It however appears that there is a need to do more in order to reduce the crime rates in this city.

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Using the Crime Analysis Triangle, crime statistics in Odessa indicate that incidences of repeat offending, repeat victimization and repeat locations do occur but not on a notable scale. Incidences of crime involving similar offenders are present but only limited to minor drug offences, late night robbery with violence and attack on civilians in areas not properly secured. However, incidences of repeat victimization have been on the decline. This is attributed to a strict legal requirement that ensures that only evidence is used to track down suspects. However, Hispanics, especially those of Mexican extraction have been repeatedly victimized for drug related offenses. Americans of black decent on the other hand have been victims of gun related violence and robbery with violence. Despite increased police patrol, statistics indicate that incidences of crimes certain forms of crime, especially robbery with violence happening at the same location still occur. Incidences robbery with violence, drug peddling and aggravated murder cases are inherent in poor neighborhoods and streets that are not properly secured.   

In general, the crime rate in Odessa is high compared to cities such as Fargo, Independence and Ann Arbor do not seem to be doing too badly. For instance, in 2014, Fargo, Independence and Ann Arbor registered 187, 223 and 94 cases of violent crimes respectively (Solomon, 2015). Moreover, in 2015, the reported numbers of violent crime cases were 169, 216 and 96 also respectively (Solomon, 2015). This indicates a decline in both Fargo and Independence and a very slight increase in Ann Arbor. In the murder cases, Fargo was consistent at 3 cases in both 2014 and 2015, Independence also reported only 1 case in both years and Ann Arbor had no cases in either year (Solomon, 2015). For robbery, it can also be noted that Ann Arbor reported 9 cases in 2014 and 13 cases in 2015, Independence had 50 cases in 2014 and 56 cases in 2015, while Fargo had 30 cases in 2014 and 21 cases in 2015 (Solomon, 2015).

Compared to the national crime rate, Odessa, just like most cities in Texas is experiencing challenges confounding crime. Furthermore, the national crime statistics also indicate that there was a significant decrease in almost each crime category from 2014 to 2015. Violent crimes went down by 1%, murders also reduced by 1.2%, property crimes reduced by up to 5%, car thefts by 1.5% and burglary by over 10%. This means that the other cities are on the right track, while Odessa remains behind in the fight against crime.    

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Appropriate Crime Prevention Strategy

The neighborhood watch crime prevention program was launched in the early 1970s as a way of helping the police force to fight the growing number of criminal activities within their respective jurisdictions (Arslan, 2010). Not many police departments were however able to benefit from the program based on their relationship with the communities that they were supposed to work with. The Citizen Academy program is meant to foster a deeper and clearer understanding of the police force to enable the citizens to appreciate their law enforcement and thus work with them more effectively. Since the neighborhood watch is already a part of the criminal justice system, a new crime prevention program that enhances the outcome of the existing crime prevention strategy should be more effective than an altogether new approach. The Citizens Academy will be a program that offers information to the citizens regarding how the police force works. The information will be basic and yet detailed enough to promote collaboration between the citizens and the police department. The idea is to eliminate the existing biases that prevent a lot of citizens from coming forward with information that could prevent crimes within their communities. Citizens need to learn about the transparency as well as privacy of the police department. This will enable them to trust the law enforcement officers and to work with them for the benefit of their community. In this crime prevention strategy, the citizens will be given regular classes on how the police department works. These could be once a week, for an hour or two and only open to members of the public who are 18 years and above, and with proof of residence within the jurisdiction in which the academy is being held. The idea is to empower citizens with information that will change their perspective on the police department so that they can have an easier time collaborating on community policing issues. The inability of the Odessa community to work effectively with their police department is part of the reason for their growing crime rates in the city. 

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Literature Review of Crime Prevention Strategies

In his analysis, Gabor (2011) established that there are four types of crime prevention programs. These include social prevention, community based crime prevention, situational crime prevention and crime prevention through the justice system. The definition of crime prevention in a holistic context is simply being able to prevent a crime from happening. Furthermore Gabor (2011) notes that most of the crime prevention programs within the US focus on gang related violence and criminal activities, with a major focus on preventing members from joining street gangs or trying to divert them after they have already joined. The connection between crime prevention and social justice in this case is that the programs enable the society to focus on helping the criminals before condemning them. This means that rather than marginalizing the members of the community, these programs offer a chance at redemption if they are implemented appropriately.   

Schneider, S. (2014) elucidates seven main institutions that are interdependent in the context of crime prevention. These include communities, families, schools, labor markets, criminal justice, police and specific premises. This means that the environments within each of these institutional settings may have to be evaluated and even altered in order to change the crime narrative within a given location. Among other things, these authors argue that without a consideration of the grassroots levels or the smaller settings within which the crimes occur, it might be difficult to effectively prevent the crime at the general level. Focusing on the city of Odessa as a whole may thus be a mistake in this case. Each police precinct operates within its own community and it is important for these small communities to be able to formulate their own effective approaches for crime prevention. This means that the main concern for the police force should be enabling the members of their respective communities to work with them in formulating the said crime prevention strategies.

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Lott (2013) argues that schools are a locus for the prevention of social problems that can be rooted out during the developmental process of a child. Crime is a social problem and in many cases it can be attributed to the development of the individual in question. However, for the schools within the given jurisdiction to appreciate this perspective there may be a need for collaboration with the law enforcement authorities. The police department may not be directly involved in the school activities aimed at preventing social problems but if they are able to share information freely and effectively with the school authorities they may be able to enlighten them on many crime-related issues that can be addressed within the school. Rather than leaving the whole parenting to the parents at home, schools need to be actively engaged in ensuring that they produce responsible citizens in terms of social behavior and orientation towards crime.

Reisig and Kane (2014) established that the most effective approach in crime prevention is in focusing on the reduction or elimination of the risk factors. This implies social or developmental crime prevention where the focus is on the factors that push the individual into a life of crime. In some cases, focusing on the socio-economic situations within which the children are brought up may not be practical especially considering the economic contexts of the US and the rest of the world. This leaves the option of focusing on highlighting and eliminating the risks that enable the perpetrators to commit the crime. For example, a mugging is only likely to occur in an abandoned street or a dark alley. In such a situation, the authorities could either create a security post on that street or ensure that there is lighting in the alley. Alternatively, they could inform the public to avoid that particular spot depending on the exact situation at hand. The ability of a prevention program to target an important risk factor determines it chances of success.

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Programs Analysis and Comparison of Effectiveness

From the comparisons of jurisdictions conducted under Analysis of current trends topic above, it can be noted that the city of Odessa is the only one that is yet to implement the Citizens’ Academy program. The rest of the cities have been able to improve their security and fight against crime significantly by simply empowering the citizens to work better with the authorities. This is why these other cities have a lower crime rate, with significantly lower numbers of violent and non-violent crimes despite having the same population size and a relatively similar socio-economic outlook (Arslan, 2010). This means that the Citizen’s Academy program is likely to be successful for Odessa as well provided the implementation is as effective as it has been in the other cities.  

The Neighborhood Watch program has also been effective in most of the other cities as well. Once the citizens are able to create a good working relationship with their police department, sharing information becomes an easier concept and the area becomes safer in general. There is however a dire need for the police department to be in good terms with the citizens for this program to work. Considering the history of the police department in the Odessa city and the rest of Texas, the reputation needs to be rebuilt through a more engaging program if the people are to trust the department enough to work with them.   

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Funding Strategy for Program Implementation

This program will require the officers to recruit members from the community and organize regular training sessions in which they get to share information that will empower these citizens and enable them to perceive the police department as partners on the subject of crime and security. The funding will have to be a part of the budget since it is a long term endeavor aimed at reaching out to all the citizens within the city (Harnsberger, 2011). The state will in this case need to provide the extra funding. The program is not set to be expensive because other than the publicity that it will need. The information sharing can be a part of the job description of the Chief of police and their sergeants on duty. The sessions will be short and the classes will not be as large in each precinct. This means that it will not eat into normal police work.

Anticipated Outcomes

First, the police department in Odessa can expect a better relationship with the citizens of Odessa. Most of the negative attitude that the public has towards the police is based on media reports and discriminatory assumptions that may not have any real basis (Harnsberger, 2011). With the Citizen’s Academy, the public will get to understand their police department and thus appreciate the officers for the work that they do. The department can also expect to receive more information in the community policing initiative. The members of the public will know what to look out for and how to pass on the information to their police department without putting themselves in danger. This will enable more effective policing and thus better security. Generally, after implementing the Citizen’s Academy it will be expected that Odessa will record lower numbers of crime in each category from robbery, murder, burglary and even assault among other things. This prevention program is supposed to enhance social justice by ensuring that the citizens get as much room to play their part in the safety and security of their specific societies. Giving the individual enough power to access and share information with the police department ensures that they also have their fair share of responsibility when it comes to keeping the streets safe. More responsibility means more active participation, and this means stricter security measures that will limit the offenders as highlighted in the crime analysis triangle. If the managers, guardians and handlers are more vigilant, the offenders will not have the opportunity to commit any crimes. 

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Conclusion

Odessa is currently a considerably dangerous city with some of the highest crime rates for a city of its size in population. The police force is well organized, but the local population is unable to cooperate due to absence of a well-coordinated structure that can bolster corporation between law enforcers and citizens. A crime prevention strategy that can work effectively in a city of Odessa’s stature must create a synergy and cultivate a better working relationship between the citizens and the corresponding police authorities through a Citizen’s Academy. This strategy has so far worked well for cities like Independence, Fargo and Ann Arbor, all of which have similar characteristics as Odessa except for their lower crime rates and effective levels of collaboration between the police department and members of the public. This type crime prevention strategy is not expensive and thus the city should have no trouble funding it as soon as possible.