It may seem to be an obvious question: Do we want a community with low levels of crime and violence? Of course we do. The tougher question is: Are we actively addressing the causes and consequences of violence and crime?
This topic stands as another rung in The Free Press’ continuing effort to assess community development and community health, as measured by the Blandin Foundation’s eight dimensions of a healthy community.
According to Blandin’s longtime measures, used by hundreds of communities across the state, safety and security is more than a low crime rate. It’s about adequate police and fire protection, but also about cultural developments like: Do people watch out for each other? Are subtle forms of discrimination recognized as violence just as are assaults and criminal abuse? And most importantly: Does the community help all those affected by violence and actively seek to change conditions leading to violence?
One can debate the Mankato region’s relatively low crime rate. Most people who live here report they feel safe. Though recent state and local budget cuts have put pressure on public safety budgets, few are saying the cities don’t have “adequate” police and fire protection, though that is an indicator to watch as the government’s fiscal problems become more severe.
On the question of neighborly concern and if we watch out for each other, it seems sometimes the important question is who is “each other.” Certainly neighborhood associations in Lincoln Park, Washington Park and Highland Park have made strides in creating a watching-out-for-each-other culture. But what about the mutual respect between the area college students and neighborhoods they sometimes vandalize? Is there an effort to bridge this gap beyond the punitive measures?
Are people who drink too much at bars being “watched out for” by their friendly waitresses and bartenders? The results here seem mixed, given a fairly high rate of driving while intoxicated offenses in the region.
Violence in our community has shown itself in some very extreme ways in the past three or four months. Two very serious cases of domestic violence led to two homicides in the region in just a few short months, far above the norm.
Certainly, we’ve done some things to help those affected by domestic violence, but reasonable people are also questioning systems for domestic violence notification and communication between law enforcement and victim advocates. Could we be doing more? Have police, prosecutors and judges convened to come up with an action plan to improve the situation?
Are we changing the circumstances or conditions leading to violence? Are our safe houses, homeless shelters and chemical dependency units adequately funded? CADA is always in need of more funding. The mental health crisis center recently because of state budget cuts. The Salvation Army shelter is often too full and more funding is always needed.
We may have our work cut out for us in these areas. We know we have the assets of a proactive population. What’s needed is framing of the issues that focuses on solutions. Again, there is progress on many of these issues, but we must do more to change the circumstances in which violence and crime can occur.