Don’t cancel this policy

Published 6:37 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017

The board of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority got a bit of good news recently from Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett, but the housing authority must be careful not to take that good news as evidence of a need to change its current policy on security in its communities.

Incidents of homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson have all fallen at SRHA properties in recent years. In fact, Bennett told the group, from 2010 to 2016, there was an average of less than violent crime a month in the authority’s five communities, which house 466 families.

That’s significant, especially in light of the two homicides in the summer of 2013 that caused the SRHA’s board to enact a policy under which Suffolk police officers are paid to work at the authority’s properties on the weekends. The housing authority pays more than $7,000 a year to fund the detail.

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Significantly, since the policy was enacted, there have been no more violent deaths on SHRA property. Whether that’s because of the police presence on the weekends or simply a coincidence is unclear, and Bennett was careful not to read too much into the statistics.

However, as he later said, it’s clear that the police presence has not hurt.

“I can’t say it’s our officers, but I believe them being out there is a deterrent in and of itself,” he said. “This uniform being seen helps. How much it helps, I can’t tell you that. I can guarantee you it doesn’t hurt. If we’re out there harassing them all the time, they’re going to find someplace else to go.”

Certainly a sense of pride in their communities, as suggested by SRHA Executive Director Tracey Snipes, is likely to have contributed to the reduction in crime. And it’s likely that societal factors, including an improving economy, have played a part, as well.

However, the deterrent nature of the security policy may well be reason enough to keep paying for the officers’ presence on the weekends. If SRHA is looking to save money, it should look elsewhere. The security policy should remain in place.