Current Public Safety Issues in Gilbert
I recently had an opportunity to address a group of community business leaders on current public safety issues in Gilbert and how we can work as partners to continue to maintain high levels of safety in our community. I would like to clarify some statements which appeared in a news article following the presentation.
Crime Trends and Concerns
We began 2012 with the lowest overall crime rate in Arizona and one of the lowest in the United States. Our violent crime rate was the lowest in Arizona and property crime rate was the second lowest in Arizona. Preliminary figures show that we continue to reduce property crime, with approximately 466 fewer victims of property crime this year. We have seen slight increases in some areas of violent crime, which follows a national trend. There were approximately 19 additional victims of violent crime this year as compared to 2011. Our homicide rate increased from 2 to 6, which was impacted by one domestic violence related homicide with four victims. All homicide cases have been cleared. The majority of our violent crime cases involve suspects who are known to the victim. Armed robbery is the only exception. Five of our homicides involved firearms; one involved a child death based on negligence.
Perceptions of Safety
I did state that levels of safety in the community should be based on our citizen’s perceptions of safety, rather than just statistics. Our Vision Statement was recently revised to reflect this: Gilbert; A community where people feel safe in their homes, in public places and on our roadways. Overall, our citizens’ tell us that they do feel safe in our community. The best gauge of this is to drive around and see people in our parks, walking and bike riding in their neighborhoods, shopping in our businesses, and moving to our community. I did state that complacency is our biggest enemy and that the best way to reduce crime is to prevent it. Overall, Gilbert remains a very safe community. Working together, we can keep it that way.
Traffic safety remains a significant concern for our department and our residents. We have experienced increases in non-injury, injury and fatal traffic collisions, with an increase of 167 overall collisions. Speed and distracted driving remain leading factors that contribute to collisions. I did jokingly state that police officers are some of the worst drivers on the road when it comes to distracted driving, because we are forced to do things that we tell others not to do (when it comes to paying attention to the road). Our cars are equipped with computers to assist us in a timely response to calls for service, we are answering and listening to the police radio and are constantly looking around us as we are driving, looking for violations and suspicious activity. I also pointed out that our officers recognize this and are trained to adapt to these distractions. As a result, we have a very low collision rate and a very good safety record. Only one officer involved accident occurred during 696,355 miles of driving in the first 9 months of 2012. We hold our officers and ourselves accountable for following the same laws that we enforce. Policies are in place that prohibits the use of cell phones and entering data into the computer, while the vehicle is in motion.
School Safety and Gun Violence
I did respond to a question from the audience on school safety and gun violence, stating that I would not get involved in the political discussions on this issue. I did state that there are two common denominators in mass shooting incidents; mental health and the accessibility of firearms by people with mental health issues. My comments about accessibility to firearms were in relation to people with mental health issues and criminals, not the overall accessibility to firearms. I did state that we need to set politics and emotion tied to this issue aside, in order to determine what can be done to reduce and prevent these senseless acts of violence. I did not, nor will I, attempt to offer any opinions on how that can be done. As a nation, we need to figure out how to reduce the opportunity for criminals and people who pose a threat to themselves and others from possessing firearms, while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms for self-protection, hunting and recreation. We also need to address the culture in our country that portrays violence and killing as “fun” and entertainment.
On the issue of school safety; I did state that this is an issue that is not restricted to schools. These acts of violence have occurred in schools, colleges, shopping malls, movie theaters, strip malls, government facilities and houses of worship. We need to be cautious about diverting police resources to one particular area, increasing vulnerability in other areas of the community. As a police department, we have an obligation to protect the entire community. We will continue to work with our school officials to evaluate the security needs on their campuses to keep our kids as safe as possible.