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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Citizens must work with police to fight crime in our community

In talking to candidates for Fort Wayne’s Nov. 5 election, both Republican and Democrat, News-Sentinel.com’s editorial board found one of the prominent topics of discussion was public safety and how the city should work to improve relations between police and the neighborhoods where residents have been reluctant to come forward as witnesses to local crimes.

So Sunday’s meeting of some of the leaders of city neighborhood associations organized by Concerned Citizens Watch Inc. would seem to be a positive step in improving the collaboration between law enforcement and the citizens they serve.

CCW has trained people to patrol neighborhoods for four decades to report on crimes or suspicious activities to local law enforcement and to help bridge the gap between citizens and police to reduce crime in our neighborhoods. But the question is whether these efforts are making progress.

Sunday’s CCW meeting at the downtown Allen County Public Library was attended by about 20 residents and Capt. Mitchell McKinney, Fort Wayne Police Department director of community relations, and Detective Sgt. Joe Hontz of the FWPD’s burglary suppression unit. CCW President Reg Converse, according to a Journal Gazette report about the meeting, said neighborhood association presidents were given surveys to help evaluate whether the group should continue to focus on patrolling and to make sure it was serving the needs of the neighborhoods.

Part of the pre-election discussions News-Sentinel.com had with candidates about crime in Fort Wayne was spurred by the debates between the mayoral candidates, incumbent Democrat Tom Henry and Republican Tim Smith. When talking about crime in Fort Wayne, Henry stated in a debate that he believes the city is safe “if you’re not involved in guns, gangs or drugs.”

Mayor Henry told us in an interview he was “talking about violent crime” when he made that comment. And he touted efforts similar to CCW, such as the 10-Point Coalition, where volunteers visit local neighborhoods to examine the areas of crime and how to improve conditions.

His guns-gangs-drugs comment, however, was fodder for much discussion among Council candidates, some of whom thought the comment was dismissive of what many consider a serious problem in Fort Wayne.

And Smith disputed the claims in a statement the mayor made in September and uses in political advertisements that Fort Wayne is the fifth safest city in America — a 2012 ranking by insuranceproviders.com combining crime rates with the number of car accidents and the level of natural disaster safety that make Fort Wayne a safe destination for travelers.

The mayor said 75 percent of crimes have been brought to closure this year, many from the efforts of witnesses coming forward and the effectiveness of Crime Stoppers. Smith, on the other hand, has stated that violent crime in Fort Wayne has risen 17 percent over the past 12 years, according to data collected from the FBI’s online Uniform Crime Reporting tool and the FWPD. And he said the city has too many unsolved homicides, citing the lack of trust between witnesses and the authorities that has been an ongoing issue in parts of the city for years.

Fort Wayne Police Sgt. Timothy Hughes of the homicide division told The Journal Gazette in March that of 338 homicides between 2008 and 2018, only 51 percent have been solved.

Smith, an advocate of community policing, as well as Henry and most of the City Council candidates we interviewed agreed that better communication between neighborhood residents and law enforcement is key to reducing crime in the city.

Likewise, The Journal Gazette story said those at Sunday’s meeting seemed to agree that the strategy of residents and volunteers being observant and keeping police informed is effective.

But only 20 people at that meeting representing more than 300 Fort Wayne neighborhoods is not enough.

Groups like CCW and the 10-Point Coalition have volunteers who are willing to walk the streets where crime occurs in order to show a presence and report to law enforcement the things they see that may need to be addressed. Their efforts can help make us a safer community. But they need help. We need to do more.

The FWPD’s Crime Prevention Bureau provides specialized training, advice and other support to CCW. Learn more by e-mailing ccwfortwayne@gmail.com or calling (260) 704-7344.

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