In thinking about the recent crimes in our area we must face up to a few uncomfortable facts. One of which is that there will never be enough police to adequately protect citizens or their property.
It has always been that way. Even when our Valley prospered and could afford well-staffed police departments it was never enough to provide the type of protection that was necessary. Think back to the early days in the West. Most towns had a sheriff, and if he was lucky he had a deputy. It worked out fine as long as the Dalton gang didn't come calling.
Any sizeable threat required the Sheriff to assemble a posse, or to get assistance from the towns' people. No local government could have kept a force large enough to deal with any large increase in crime then, and no local government could do it now.
The big misconception is that the job of the police is protection and crime prevention, unfortunately, both usually require an officer to be at the scene where a crime is about to be committed. Even though police know certain areas are prone to crime, there are just not enough of them to be everyplace where a crime might occur.
A more apt job description of police is reporting and investigating. Generally police can't arrive until after a crime has occurred, and by then, all they can do is interview victims and witnesses.
Two other things to keep in mind about the police; for the most part, the guns they carry are for their protection, not yours. You should also remember the saying, ''When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.''
This is not to disparage police; most are dedicated and would put their lives on the line to save yours, but they are just spread too thin. Far too many people live with the illusion of safety, when none exists. They attribute the fact they have thus far lived safely to the government when in reality it is nothing more than not having been selected as a victim.
Face it; if we're going to be safe and if our neighborhoods are going to be protected, we're going to have to play our part. And I'm not just talking about block watches where you meet once a month to get safety tips from a cop. For a block watch to work, it must involve people who are willing to devote some time.
How that time is spent has to be decided based on just what the neighborhood hopes to achieve. But, at the very minimum, it will have to include standing watch in an organized fashion. Just advising people to pay more attention in their neighborhood is not going to cut it. Now I'm not advocating vigilantism, but people are going to have to take a more active role than just dialing 911.
Crime-ridden neighborhoods, as we see in the larger cities, don't occur overnight; they evolve. And once they reach ''critical mass'' they start to generate murders. While no citizen group can prevent murders, I believe that an involved citizenry can prevent lesser crimes, and often that is enough to entice the criminally prone to relocate.
As I said, the police are spread too thin to adequately police a city. I know that in our area, volunteers once were used to assist local police departments. My father-in-law even served as an auxiliary state highway patrolman. They were unpaid volunteers, much like volunteer firefighters, who, with a minimum amount of training would assist regular police. I believe they even went on patrol with them.
Unless circumstances change, we can expect to see continually shrinking tax bases, stretching law enforcement even thinner. If we're going to have safe surroundings we're going to have to start being a little more innovative. I would bet that there are examples, in our country, of communities that have found ways to utilize citizen participation in law enforcement.
It's time local officials, both civilian and law enforcement, used their connections to search for successful programs that take advantage of citizens willing to devote some time to help keep their communities safe.
Moadus is a Girard resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.