Saturday, March 13, 2010

No More Cops and Robbers

By Dennis R. Lieb

(Disclaimer: the above photo does not represent anyone in particular, either living or dead...just in case.)

Just one editorial comment first before I delve into today's topic; I'm postponing my expected follow-up on Lehigh Valley passenger rail for the time being due to an upcoming meeting I have scheduled with Senator Mensch on that topic. I'll be meeting with him Thursday afternoon and taking a few local rail officials/experts/supporters with me to try to create some new critical mass to the process - especially in Easton.

Having said that, it would serve the West Ward well to get more involved with the placement, configuration and design of the new transit center downtown. Many WW residents use LANTA and the private commuter buses for work and will be greatly effected by this project. The last public comment meeting was poorly attended generally and, other than myself, included no WW residents. The public input is part of a federally required process called an environmental assessment (EA) that is a component part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). LANTA has learned it's lesson from ignoring this process during the Riverwalk project, when the group I represented sued them in federal court, and it would be disappointing if we didn't take advantage of the opportunity this time. I believe Noel posted the LANTA website link where public comment can be recorded but if not I will do so in the near future.

Today I drift into the area of public safety; something I usually avoid but I came across an interesting article from LA that has relevance here and I thought would make for good conversation. Most people
think about police and crime fighting when public safety is mentioned and to a certain extent that is true. But when the topic came up at Mike Fleck's first neighborhood summit I turned the conversation towards other aspects of public safety like the ability of kids on Ferry Street to cross an intersection without getting run over by maniac drivers or having an elderly couple in a Toyota get T-boned at an intersection by some jerks playing high-speed car tag, which I witnessed at 9th and Lehigh a few years ago.

The LA article focuses on the budget deficit in that city, it's relationship to police staffing cuts and the public relations issues surrounding the LAPD. It may help you get the proper context for the LA discussion by following the numerous links within that story, but the issues I'm most concerned with come later and deal with design related solutions to public safety. Many others on this blog have commented on the necessity to bring other resources to bare on the public safety issues and this article quite clearly leans toward laying out those possibilities. Read that article here. I'll be interested to hear your responses.



noel jones said...

Interesting article, Dennis. This was the part that hit home the most:

"However, by definition, they [police departments] are a reactionary institution, not so much an institution that proactively seeks to prevent crime.
Depending on police to solve all crime problems is equivalent to depending on emergency room doctors to be primary care doctors --- it's expensive, it's not their job, creates a culture reliant on catastrophe to get any attention, and much better if we prevent the catastrophic stuff from happening in the first place."

It's also interesting that they experienced a dramatic drop in crime by keeping parks open until midnight so kids could play ball rather than hanging out in the streets and getting into trouble with gangs. Now before anyone cries foul and says that would never work here, lets remember that this article takes place in L.A. and the day we start thinking Easton has worse crime problems then Los Angeles, is the day we can official call our selves delusional.

When it comes to Weed & Seed, although the police and Laura Accetta work very hard, it doesn't change the fact that right now the vast majority of Weed & Seed money goes into the "weed" not the "seed." The answer is not expanding the police department and expecting them to solve our problems. It makes the head spin when one thinks of the amount of outreach that could be done with the price of one set of salary/benefits/pensions that bringing on a new officer costs. I'm very happy that we now have two officers dedicated to a more neighborhood-friendly strategy, but let's please put any future money into the proactive outreach necessary to reduce crime, rather than trying to arrest it all.

The article makes a good point about traffic calming as well--that with traffic-calming, more people--especially women, elderly people and the disabled--feel safe walking the streets, and with that overall increased presence of neighbors walking rather than driving in cars, that the streets actually become safer (of course, in the West Ward, some serious sidewalk repair would make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly too). The traffic on Ferry and Lehigh streets drives way too fast, and there are frequent accidents--I even saw a child get hit last year, but thankfully he was ok. It would be such a big help to turn those streets back into 2-ways and/or put in more stop signs.

Thanks for the article, Dennis.

Anonymous said...

I would like to make a clarification.
The vast majority of the Weed and Seed funds DO NOT pay the police "weeding" activities. Currently Weed and Seed receives $150,154 from the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency and another $55,000 from the city of Easton totaling $205,154. $80,000 pays the salaries of the Site Coordinator (myself/$40,000)and 57.5% of the base salary of Lt. John Remaley-$40,000, $70,154 goes toward programming:A Place for Us (EAMS)/Shawnee complex grades 5/6, FDRP at EAHS managed by the Easton Area Neighborhood Ctr. and Saints Clubhouse at Easton Area Community Center. The cities $55,000 is spent on more programming and miscellaneous busimess expenses such as rent.In summary more is spent on the "seeding".
Laura Accetta
Site Coordiantor
Easton Weed and Seed

Anonymous said...

Since its inception (in 2000) a considerable amount of Weed and Seed funding has gone toward the weeding and the police. How much in total would be good to know. Does anyone know?

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I have the budget paperwork for the first few years of Weed and Seed in my basement (amongst tons of other activist crap). I could dig the old stuff out for what it's worth but don't hold your breath. I can tell you from memory that there was a lot of poorly defined/gray area spending (like the painting and accessories for the Weed and Seed van) that didn't show up as pure law&order costs that someone like me wold lump into the police category.There was other non-police related nonsense spending as well.

We used this info when we exposed the program's wastefulness and had them audited and their funding shut down by the city, county and state. I talked directly to the state auditor and he was obviously not happy with what he saw but was obligated to report no illegal activity. That wasn't our point - just that money was poorly allocated relative to neighborhood needs.

I don't know a lot about the current budgeting breakdown beyond what has been mentioned above. I am glad our previous expose' of abuse had an effect on creating new rules at the state level and am glad these programs are in the hands of neighborhood people instead of career bureaucrats. Weed and Seed is no longer my venue for achieving change.

I'm a physical development guy and defiantly believe more can be achieved via that route. I hope things are progressing at W&S but I am not the one to give thumbs up or thumbs down at this point. The larger public should critically scutinize it and decide whether it stays or goes.


Tim Pickel said...

Although your picture came with a disclaimer, I immediately thought of several people. Just a thought...

noel jones said...

Laura, even by your numbers, more is spent on the "weed" of Weed & Seed--administrative costs and rent do not count as "seed."

But back to Dennis's original point, that public safety is not just about law enforcement, and that traffic-calming is essential. We have had three tragic deaths on Northampton in the last two months. Two were traffic deaths--vehicles striking an elderly pedestrian, and a child on a bicycle (today). One was a shooting. We need some money focused on public safety in the form of traffic calming, i.e., putting in more stop signs, turning one-ways back to two-way streets, etc. As we can see from these tragedies, it is really important.

On Ferry Street a boy was hit by a car right in front of my house last summer--thankfully he was OK, but I have heard that this has happened more than once in the 9th & Ferry area in the last couple of years as well. We need more stop signs.