Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crime - Courier - Editorial: No crime news is good news

Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No crime news is good news in Plainfield

We haven't been hearing much about crime trends in Plainfield lately, good news in a city where a string of murders so dominated the headlines a year ago.

Recent reports of the decline in homicides through July this year over the same period in 2005 (from 11 to six) were certainly welcome, but city administration officials wisely didn't go overboard in praising their own efforts. The impression is of leaders well aware of the long and difficult law enforcement task ahead.

Most striking in all of this, however, is the absence of discontented voices -- at least publicly -- that had been so prevalent in the final years of former Mayor Al McWilliams' administration. Whether it was rank-and-file police officers blasting city officials, administration officials criticizing police department leadership, or the mayor and City Council bickering over whom to blame for police layoffs, everyone, it seemed, was pulling in a different crime-fighting direction.

That has mostly changed under Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who enjoyed the support of the police union during last year's campaign and has put in place some of her own people to help steer the police department.

There are five more officers on the force. Redeployment of personnel has created 18 additional officers available for regular patrol. City officials also credit greater cooperation with county and state law enforcement agencies for assisting their cause. One such example is an upcoming anti-gang initiative, Operation Cease Fire, in which a state trooper will assist in training a special unit to specifically target gun violence in the city.

Just having everyone on the same page doesn't by itself guarantee success. The right decisions have to be made. Some of the slings and arrows suffered by McWilliams resulted from his reasonable attempts to shake up the status quo, attempts that are being carried through in some fashion under Robinson-Briggs. (The redeployment to increase patrols, for instance, was initiated under McWilliams.) Some dissatisfaction with bold steps isn't to be feared.

But the combustible mix of a rash of murders and a contentious political campaign helped turn the law enforcement debate ugly in 2005. The absence of that ugliness is a refreshing -- and promising -- change in 2006.

Link to online story.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.