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The cost of protection

Published 9:34pm Thursday, September 26, 2013

As with all things in life, there is a certain economic calculus that must come into play when officials are considering how to intervene to help reduce crime in an area.

Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett explained some of the necessary calculations during a meeting of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners this week. The chief was talking to the SRHA’s governing body about his department’s response to violent crime in public housing neighborhoods, including three murders within three years in the Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick communities.

Starting about two months ago, police began directed patrols, in which a pair of uniformed police officers walk instead of ride through the complexes. Putting feet on the ground in the communities helps officers check things out more thoroughly, and it gives them direct contact with the people who live there. That direct contact not only gives potential criminals reason to hesitate from committing crimes, but also gives everyone in the communities a chance to get to know the type of people who are there to protect them.

Police have also increased their efforts to, in Bennett’s words, learn “who the players are and what they are doing” in Suffolk’s public housing communities. That will enable them to better identify the outsiders, who Bennett said are usually more likely to be the ones committing violent crimes.

But none of these efforts come cheap. Sending out two officers on foot costs about $300 a night, Bennett told commissioners, and doing so for two nights a week would cost about $31,000 per community.

Significantly, the Suffolk Police Department doesn’t have either the manpower or the funding to support that kind of full-scale approach to intervening in dangerous communities like Cypress Manor, so officers currently make the weekend foot patrols “fairly frequently” but on an irregular schedule, Bennett said.

Understandably, the commissioners were hesitant to commit to spending so much money for the patrols, and they seemed interested in alternatives that could include hiring private security for the complexes.

Still, though, there is little question that the Suffolk police need to be more visible in these high-crime parts of the city. If the only way to accomplish that goal is to have SRHA pay a portion of the cost, then that’s exactly what should happen.

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