Providence Journal, Editorial by Brett Smiley
According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Providence is the 183rd safest city in America with 100,000 people or more. Major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas all have lower crime rates than Providence, and the quality of life that makes it so special is being threatened daily by crime and violence on our streets.
In the past month alone, Providence had its 100th shooting victim of the year and lost a 16-year-old student. We can — and we must — do better.
We need to get creative in the ways we police our streets and commit to making public safety a top priority in our city. Most areas of policy, from education to the economy to transportation, are inherently intertwined, and public safety is no exception. That’s why last week I released a detailed and comprehensive eight-page plan designed to make Providence the safest city of its size in the nation (the whole plan can be read here).
By making Providence safer, we can save lives, save the local economy hundreds of thousands in emergency-room expenses, attract new businesses that generate jobs and grow our economy, create an environment where students come to school each day ready to learn, and make Providence a more livable, pedestrian-friendly city.
Without a doubt, the greatest obstacles to a safer Providence are the frequent incidents of gang violence and the overwhelming prevalence of illegal firearms, two challenges that, together, perpetuate a dangerous cycle. We need to work with law-enforcement officers and prosecutors to warn gang members that violence will be met with swift and severe consequences while at the same time working with social-service agencies, faith leaders and community groups to lure juveniles away from gangs and toward safer alternatives like expanded recreational opportunities. Organizations like the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence and Project Night Visions are already leaders in this area, and by partnering with them we can more effectively break the cycle.
We also need to think about new and innovative ways to get illegal guns off our streets. Too often, legally purchased firearms end up in the wrong hands, and a loophole in Rhode Island state law allows for those illegally carrying guns to legally purchase ammunition. By taxing firearms and ammunition sales just 10 percent, we can raise almost $2 million a year and channel all that money to anti-violence efforts. Just as we expect the tobacco industry and those who support it to pay for public health initiatives, the firearms industry and those who prop it up should pay to keep our streets safe.
For our police force to be most effective, we need to recommit to a community-policing model in which law enforcement is truly ingrained in the neighborhood it protects. Police officers should strengthen partnerships by attending community meetings, speaking with local teachers and school administrators, working in close contact with businesses and nonprofits, and responding to the feedback they receive from all residents of their neighborhoods. Civilian oversight is vital for a stronger policing model. It’s essential that we ensure that the voice of everyone in Providence is heard and respected by those who spend their lives protecting them.
Finally, to create a safer Providence, we must create an economically stronger Providence. One of the greatest public-safety tools is a thriving economy, and though we’re better off than we were just a few years ago, there’s still a long way to go. We need to create more jobs in our city that actually pay enough for working people to support their families by taking full advantage of everything from a working waterfront to the resurgence in high-tech manufacturing.
There is no one solution to make our city safer, but we can all agree that we need to be doing more. One hundred shootings in one year is 100 too many. This is not a partisan issue, it’s a human one. Let’s finally work together to make Providence the safest city of its size in America.
Brett Smiley is running in the September 2014 Democratic primary for Mayor of Providence. He is the former Chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board and the owner of Campaign Finance Officers, an accounting and election-compliance firm that did work for Mayor Angel Taveras and former Mayor David Cicilline.