The heartbreaking reality when police forces go unfunded and understaffed
Today I wanted to talk to you about Westminster, California. It's a small city located just east of Long Beach, with a pretty good community. But unfortunately, it's also the home of one of the most significant rises in criminal activity over the past few months.
Several reports indicate that the small town has become home to increasing criminal activity. Violent crime overall sits at 60 percent, divided across three crucial categories — robbery (up 80 percent), aggravated assault (70 percent), and burglary (20 percent).
And what's the reason for this? A lack of resources.
During a recent City Council meeting to discuss the increase in crime, Westminster police chief Darin Lenyi didn't hold anything back. Instead, he explained it was all due to one simple factor: a lack of a police force.
That's not to say he doesn't have officers. He does. He doesn't have enough to meet the demand that's suddenly come upon his city.
During the meeting, Lenyi noted, "We do not have the staffing to do that much proactive enforcement on many of these [crimes]." He also stated that the city's detective unit had fallen massively behind, with hundreds of cases still awaiting filing, mainly due to short-staffing issues.
He's done his best to keep everything covered with his team, but working them to the bone isn't getting anything done. "Officers are [already] working overtime to cover patrol functions...and they need sleep," he explained.
So why is this? Why has the Westminster police force run so short on numbers all of a sudden? Namely, it's due to a lack of funding.
While researching this matter, I came across something indicating that the city's low budget was due to some "recruitment war" with the police. Lenyi detailed the problems with keeping officers on the payroll, namely with other departments offering more significant benefits and pay (along with the possibility of a slightly safer place to work rather than one with a phenomenally growing crime rate).
It sounds as though the city could use an increase in funds to recruit more officers so that these poor patrolmen on the team don't get worn down to their very nerves. But when Lenyi tried to request that, he was met with a cold shoulder.
City councilman Chi Charlie Nguyen understood the point, stating during the meeting, "From what I am hearing, you are doing what you can and trying your best to cover [crime increases]." I'm still flabbergasted by this response. That is what Lenyi stated, but why couldn't the government of that city provide a greater budget to bring crime back down?
Without police to keep citizens safe, there's nothing to keep the crime rate from skyrocketing in this town — and that's bad news overall. The police, as stated above, are working themselves the best that they can to keep up with everything, but it's simply overwhelming. And the fact that Nguyen and his fellow officials won't lift a finger to help is downright frustrating.
It says something as a whole that needs to be done with the government. If there is no means to expand upon a police force, then maybe there's something the citizens themselves can do.
For example, a few weeks ago, Philadelphia streamlined the process to get a concealed carry license in the face of surging criminal activity. The city received a ton of applications in the several days that followed, with many looking to register for a weapon to keep themselves safe. In just a few short days after the passing of that ordinance, a citizen was able to foil a robbery at his local store, shooting the perpetrator before he could hurt anyone else.
Something needs to be done here. Westminster is facing a surge of crime that it's simply not prepared for, and it's put Lenyi and his overworked police force up against a wall — and it could merely tumble down at any second. So Nguyen and his government need to do something — anything! — to make the town safe again.
It should take a closer look at self-protection numbers from Philadelphia and other cities and states and, at the very least, maybe even engage a few citizens to work alongside the police to lend them a hand. Something has to be done quickly before Westminster falls into criminal oblivion.
Michael Letts is the founder, president, and CEO of In-Vest USA, a national grassroots non-profit organization helping hundreds of communities provide thousands of bulletproof vests for their police forces through educational, public relations, sponsorship, and fundraising programs. Those interested in learning more about Letts can visit his official website here.
Image via Needpix.