Friday, October 21, 2011

The time for action is now. Our community needs a citywide target-hardening plan.

The time for action is now. Our community needs a citywide target-hardening plan.
It's time to take back Atlantic City's streets from the thugs and vermin who are committing random acts of violence. The most recent act of senseless violence directed at resort visitors resulted in a swift and thorough regional law enforcement effort assisted by numerous private sector partners. These efforts are highly commendable and deserve praise. One of the valuable lessons the federal government learned from 9/11 was the realization that we should not be judged on how well we investigate terror incidents but on how we prevent them. This lesson also applies here in a community that craves strategic crime-prevention solutions.
In our region, local criminals may have learned that major crime events in gaming resorts get a lot of attention, produce valuable identification evidence and usually result in the identification and apprehension of suspects. Criminals from outside our area may not have received the same message. Local criminals seem to be comfortable committing major crimes in other parts of the city.
There are three basic components of a criminal act: desire, ability, and opportunity. The criminal element operates because it possesses a sense of comfort in the success of its actions. We need to take that comfort zone away by making criminals uncomfortable. This is accomplished by interrupting the assumption of success when criminals are considering soft target victims and settings. Target hardening is a security trade term that involves a multidisciplinary and layered approach to crime prevention. This is most effective from a regional perspective involving real-time collaboration from all stakeholders, such as public-sector law enforcement personnel from local, county, state and federal agencies, large private-sector corporations, private security providers, community organizations, education institutions and, most important, the citizens.
To be effective, a citywide target-hardening plan should begin with an analysis and education element. The entire spectrum of stakeholders should receive data relating to each individual group. What are the crimes? How do they occur? Where and when do they take place? How are they prevented? The analysis and educational element empowers all stakeholders to make informed and strategic decisions about reducing risk. It allows them to: create a presence of highly visible protection forces around individual targets or clusters of targets; make contact with those acting suspiciously; deliver a rapid response and saturation in the event of a crime, and share intelligence across private and public sectors in real time.
There are several ways to accomplish effective visibility while also adding a force multiplier. One solution would be to expand the Special Improvement District scope of services to include a division of highly trained private security personnel. Armed Class II police officers should be added to the existing police force in patrol zones within the district. These specialized security personnel and/or Class II officers should be empowered to write mercantile violations, perform traffic control, make petty crime detentions and to enforce quality-of-life issues within the zone. This would free up regular patrol force resources to drill deeper into more serious crime suppression matters while gaining a force multiplier of additional manpower, eyes and ears. The existing public sector protective agencies could then concentrate on deterring violent crime and rapid deployment to critical incidents.
The regional mutual link radio/video/data integration project, CPED (crime prevention through environmental design), Intelligence Led Policing, and improved Boardwalk and street lighting are all solutions that are ongoing or in the planning phases. These projects need to be fast-tracked and cleared of roadblocks.
A public-area closed-circuit video network is critical for the city. Live monitoring of this tool enables security and patrol forces to converge quickly upon suspicious activity. The CCTV operators are trained to detect forms of predatory behavior and to look for pre-incident indicators that often telegraph that a crime is imminent. Rapid response to video initiated suspicious activity has many benefits, one of which is the shock-and-awe factor that the criminal experiences when contacted by the police. Another benefit of video-assisted patrol is increased effectiveness of first responders since they receive more targeted and more accurate dispatch information. A third benefit is to gather specific information to deter and disrupt potential terrorism activity.
The jurisdiction must move quickly to destabilize the criminal element's soft target perception. Let's do this by working together, as a community, to deter, deny, delay, detect and respond to crime. The time for action is now