Thursday, May 28, 2009

The importance of a Safe Community

The other night I was working on my computer when I heard voices outside. We live in the downtown area so hearing loud conversations as people walk by isn’t unusual. This was beyond loud conversations, it sounded like an argument. I waited but the tone didn’t abate and as the volume grew louder you could tell there were a large crowd involved.

I shut off the lights and looked through the blinds. Out on the both sides of the street stood two groups shouting profanities at each other. It is perhaps ironic that the group on the opposite side of the street was standing in a church parking lot. Both groups were a mix of males and females, black and white. I couldn’t make out what they argument was about but it seemed to be escalating so I called the police. The police responded within a few minutes and were able to break-up the scene before it escalated.

I probably won’t learn what lead to the argument but I have a hunch that the recent loss of local jobs helped set the stage. The pullout of DHL from the airpark, plus the impact on airpark associated jobs, is between 6,000 to 10,000 jobs being lost. The effect is people are more stressed as a result of losing their jobs and having more time on the hands to get angry with their neighbor. The problem will be exacerbated by the upcoming summer months. Tempers will become shorter as temperatures rise.

Two events in Ohio cause me to wonder if events such as those the other night might not be on the rise. Toledo is laying-off police officers as a result of tax collections being 11.5% off from last year or $4 million less than last year’s revenues. Columbus is facing a similar situation but has yet to lay off any police officers. Laying off police officers causes residents to feel less safe. Combined this feeling of unease with other stresses (poor economy, job loss, health care), tempers could flair resulting in violence.

City leaders have to realize that as times become direr, public safety has to of paramount importance. It isn’t about balancing the budget; it is about maintaining the safety and security of the community. Detroit is a study in what happens as jobs and employers leave and the city is unable to attract new businesses. Tax revenues fall and public services are cut. The city becomes less attractive to new business as perceptions grow that it is unsafe.

I don’t follow Toledo enough to know what lead to the decision to lay off police officers. What I do know is Toledo is considered Detroit South and can ill afford to be perceived as an unsafe community. Toledo residents are buying firearms in record numbers because they fear for their safety. Toledo leaders need to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

Detroit and Toledo both serve as a reminder of the need for local leaders to maintain a safe community in order to experience economic recovery. Economic recovery can only happen if new businesses choose to locate in the community.

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