Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Public Safety: A “Paramount Duty” Of Government?

by Carrie Shaw March 2nd, 2010

A public forum last sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association drew 200 people — a stellar head count for a traditional public forum meeting by any measure.  The Seattle Times reports. Why the interest and high level of public participation on the topic of public safety issues?  Turns out, one-quarter of Seattle residents avoid going downtown and 40 percent of downtown Seattle’s 56,000 residents are afraid to go out at night. That’s not good by any measure.

How do we know this? Your local government asked you the question through a recent community-policing assessment.

We expect government to protect our lives, families, and the common welfare we enjoy within our communities.  Fearing that a visit to a local restaurant will result in bodily harm or harassment is not good for economic growth and the general prosperity of any community.  That intersection of public policy, budget priorities, and what you can experience on the streets of downtown Seattle is what drove 200 people to put aside their daily schedules to attend a forum on public safety.

“Downtown is just not feeling as safe as it used to be,” said panel moderator Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, which organized the public forum…City Councilmember Tim Burgess..said felony crimes increased 22 percent in 2009 over the previous year from the South Lake Union neighborhood to Pioneer Square, according to Seattle Police Department crime data. Much of that increase is the result of robberies and thefts “in our downtown core,” he said. Burgess..wants the Police Department to bring back “fixed beat, foot patrols” from Belltown to the Chinatown International District.

Public safety was also the motivation for over 200 people to provide feedback on public safety issues in King County through the nationally recognized Countywide Community Forums program.  Back in September and October of 2009, CCF tackled the many issues of public safety against the backdrop of looming budget cuts and the increase of crime in certain communities throughout King County.  This public participation effort is unique: it provides two-way communication between county residents and public officials within a model more user-friendly than large public hearings.  Convenience, accessibility, and small group discussions are the core of the CCF model. Over 80 percent of participants have never participated in a traditional public forum, but over 80 percent voted in the last election.  These are civic-minded, but high-touch folks who want a more hands-on and deeper civic engagement experience.

And that is what the CCF civic experience offers – a high-touch, high-tech tool to better engage county residents and quantify public opinion for the decision makers.

bob fergusonSo what did all this connecting and community-building produce? Crime prevention programs should be a top priority and a larger majority of participants believe that public safety is the “paramount duty” of county government. And, if you’re an African American living in King County, you were twice as likely to view crime prevention programs as top priority for county government.  Of those who took the self-selecting survey and participated in the small group discussions, you wanted more attention given by law enforcement to fighting “gang activity” (80 percent), followed by “tougher DUI laws” (67 percent), “violent crime” (63 percent), “meth labs” (63 percent), and “identity theft” (60 percent).  Overall, you were satisfied with the “police presence in your community” unless you lived in the unincorporated areas of king County.  For unincorporated King County, almost half (48 percent) of respondents said that there were not enough police or sheriff officers patrolling where they lived or worked compared to 26 percent for Seattle residents and 25 percent for Bellevue.

What this demonstrates is that King County is diverse not only in ethnicity, but geographically, and in the types of communities where people live and work. More details are in the final section of the CCF final report on public safety to the county.

But this is not just a survey. The CCF model is about building bridges, and what some term social capital. One way this occurs is when people of diverse opinions and backgrounds come together in small groups to not only share their opinions, but to gain insight and perspective from those who share different opinions.

Bob Ferguson, King County Councilmember (pictured above, right), told the Issaquah Reporter CCF “shows that the public wants to be involved in the process and not on the outside looking in.”

I say it’s a better way to do a public forum by making it more inclusive and more accessible.

What do you think?

One Response to “Public Safety: A “Paramount Duty” Of Government?”

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