‘Our Town’ Fights Crime

A year ago a Washington, D.C. neighbor-hood was a drug haven. Every night the air was filled with gunshots. Tires squealed, people screamed, drug dealers swarmed the sidewalks. But today the open-air drug market is gone. The gunfire has been silenced, children play outside again. Yellow petunias line the sidewalk. The people responsible for this dramatic change are ordinary folks like you and me, who formed a citizens' anti-crime group dubbed the "orange hat" patrol. Night after night residents patrolled the streets in their orange hats, staring down drug dealers and recording the license numbers of the buyers' cars. The orange hat patrol worked hand in hand with police, pointing out crack houses. They persuaded a phone company to remove a phone booth used by drug dealers. Bit by bit, they drove out the criminals who were destroying their neighborhood. Opinion polls show that crime tops the list of public concerns today. But citizens groups like the orange hat patrols are not waiting for the government to provide a solution. They're taking back their neighborhoods now. Community activism can be surprisingly simple. In a public housing project in Chicago, residents successfully put a halt to drive-by shootings and about half the drug traffic—simply by building a fence around the project. In Inkster, Michigan, an open-air drug market was shut down overnight when a local sheriff set up a roadblock and asked to see a driver's license and car registration. Sometimes the best tool is public shame. A neighborhood in Long Island was flooded with cruising men looking for prostitutes. They even solicited neighborhood women working in their gardens. A community association began to write down the men's license plate numbers, threatening to send letters to their homes. It was a highly effective deterrent. Most of us prefer to lay the crime problem at the feet of government. But crime rates are so high today that there's no cost-effective way for government to get it under control. Take, for example, President Clinton's proposal to put 100,000 more cops on the beat. That sounds good—until you break down the numbers. A hundred thousand cops comes to only about four additional cops per police department. And since police officers are organized into roughly four shifts, that means in reality only one additional cop per shift. And even that one cop won't necessarily be out on the streets. Because of administration and paper work, only about 1 in 15 cops is on the beat at any given time. The infusion of 100,000 cops nationwide would dissolve into a mere blip on the screen in the fight against crime. The real solution to crime is for citizens to take back their own neighborhoods. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus didn't command the government to be a neighbor; He gave the command to you and to me. Over the next few days here on "BreakPoint," I'll be talking about strategies for fighting crime, based on a new book produced by Prison Fellowship titled Staying Safe. Tune in—and learn practical ways that you can be the kind of neighbor Jesus commanded us to be. Part one of a seven-part series based on the book Staying Safe by Beth Spring.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary