Does Jamestown have enough police officers?
It is an interesting question given recent criminal activity in the city, most notably the robbery, assault, sex crimes and shots fired at a Jamestown police officer near 188 Falconer St. on July 1. In the three weeks since the incident, four Buffalo men have seen 22-count indictments handed up by a Chautauqua County grand jury. The Falconer Street incident came mere weeks after a May shooting that saw 12 rounds fired into a West Seventh Street home.
Both are chilling incidents that underscore the seriousness of the drug problem facing Jamestown. Statistics, however, show Jamestown is still a safe place to live and raise a family. The numbers, combined with the city's still precarious budget position, tell us that Jamestown does indeed have enough police officers.
Information on crimes through the end of May collected by the Jamestown Police Department and submitted to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services show fewer incidences of six of the eight crimes classified by the FBI as index crimes. Violent crime - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - decreased 7 percent overall since 2008 with rape decreasing 5 percent and aggravated assaults decreasing 11.7 percent. Property crimes - burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft - decreased 2.9 percent. Burglaries decreased 14.6 percent over five years while motor vehicle thefts decreased by 5.1 percent.
The lone increases in the index crime statistics came in robberies, which increased 10.8 percent since 2008, and larceny, which increased 2 percent since 2008. City police are proven correct by scholarly studies when they say such increases in crime go hand-in-hand with a community in the throes of a drug problem.
A 2008 study of 157 chronic drug users published in The Journal of Drug Issues by Denise C. Gottfredson, Brook W. Kearley and Shawn Bushway came to the conclusion that "substance use is related to increased levels of crime. Specifically, the use of alcohol and the use of cocaine or heroin are related to increases in (income generating crime). ... We conclude that the predominant effect of substance use on crime is to increase nonviolent crimes, most likely to generate money to purchase drugs."
We are sure there will be some, as this summer turns into the fall budget season, who march to City Hall and demand more police officers be added to the city payroll. It is the wrong move for a city that still finds itself dangerously close to its constitutional taxation limit and which finds itself largely boxed into an untenable long-term financial position by union contracts. Nearly a quarter of Jamestown's budget is spent on its police department, and it is unknown if boosting that number higher would solve the underlying problems drug use creates in our society.
Enforcement isn't the issue right now. The city has had the same number of felony drug arrests through the first five months of 2014 as there were in 2013, though the 58 felony drug arrests are 24.5 percent higher than the five-year average for the first five months of 2009-13. Misdemeanor drug arrests have increased 37.9 percent in the past year and 38.9 percent compared to the first five months of 2009-13. The increase in drug enforcement activity in Jamestown should send the signal to drug dealers the city is not a friendly place in which to do business and are evidence the Jamestown Police Department is holding up its end of the bargain with a 60-member force. We're sure that department officials are constantly examining their approaches and will continue to do the best job they can with the 60 officers they have.
Solving Jamestown's drug problem, and its associated crime problem, is as much an issue for the judiciary, community residents and economic development agencies as it is a police issue.
As Gottfredson, Kearley and Bushway note at the end of their study, "Implications of our work are primarily that efforts to provide substance abuse treatment for chronic, drug-involved offenders should be redoubled. Substance abuse treatment is likely to reduce property crime."
We must find a suitable middle ground in the judicial system between protecting the civil rights of the accused and not letting those accused of drug crimes out of jail only to reoffend within weeks of being charged. Neighbors must be vigilant, reporting suspicious drug dealing activity to the police to be dealt with properly, and helping police solve crimes like the West Seventh Street shooting. The community needs more good-paying jobs to provide a disincentive for people to begin dealing drugs in the first place. We need the Jamestown Police Department to continue its enforcement activity to make drug dealers know Jamestown isn't a place that tolerates such activity. Lastly, we need solutions to come from the continued efforts of the community drug forums led by County Executive Vince Horrigan and Pat Brinkman, county mental hygiene director.
Jamestown is still a safe place to raise a family. We must take action to keep it that way.