When it comes to public policy, safety and economic development are often thought of as completely separate. In fact, the two are very much interrelated. When people feel safe in a place, families want to live there and companies feel comfortable investing and doing business.
Let’s look at Little Rock for example. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the City of Little Rock has a population of just under 200,000 while putting the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway MSA at a population of over 720,000.
Imagine if only 100,000 more people called Little Rock home. The city would jump from being a top 120 city in population to top 65.
This isn’t about bragging rights. Joining the scale of mid-sized cities like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would raise Little Rock’s profile and further its positioning as it competes to attract businesses and increase jobs.
Unfortunately, the city’s challenges with crime and safety (as well as schools) have been a limiting factor as tens of thousands of people who work in Little Rock would rather commute to and from outlying cities than live in Little Rock.
Little Rock isn’t alone in battling safety issues. And we have to remember that stronger, more prosperous cities are good for all of Arkansas.
So, how do we make cities safer?
There are a number of strategies community members, elected officials, and business leaders consider when tackling this question. One approach I’m in favor of is community-oriented policing, a strategy that LRPD has implemented and fostered into its culture. Community-oriented policing shifts the goal of law enforcement from primarily responding to crime quickly and efficiently and adds a central focus on police maintaining strong connections with the communities they serve in order to collaboratively solve problems and prevent crime in the first place.
I liken community-oriented policing to what it means to have a market presence in banking. Market presence is all about being visible, engaged, and aware. The byproduct is successful results. When you’re visible, both existing and potential customers know about you. Engaged bankers often know about deals even before they’re announced. And if you’re aware, you know how to adapt to the unexpected to get the deal done.
Similarly, to improve safety, law enforcement should be visible, engaged, and aware. Police should have the kind of visible presence that makes criminals think twice before committing a crime.
It’s important that police also engage community members in ways that foster trust, open communication, and genuine partnership. And of course, police should be aware of what’s happening in the communities they’re responsible for protecting in order to not only respond to crime, but also prevent it.
As promising as community-oriented policing is, there’s not a single quick fix to improving safety. Cities can implement approaches like community-oriented policing and crime will still happen.
Likewise, improving safety will not transform the economic landscapes of cities’ overnight. But it’s important that we take steps now to create a foundation for the kind of economic future our cities and Arkansas as a whole need. Safety is a key pillar of that foundation.