A survey of nearly 1,300 residents of the City of Westminster regarding public safety yielded some unsurprising results. Nearly all of the respondents — about 95 percent — who live in the city or nearby areas said they “always” felt safe or felt safe “most of the time” when at home during the day, and about 83 percent felt safe during the daytime in downtown Westminster and other public areas.
Regardless of location, residents responded that they felt less safe at night — and significantly so, especially in downtown and public spaces, where the number who reported they always felt safe or did so most of the time dipped all the way to 47 percent.
Unfortunately, most of the data was compiled in the month of May, just before a series of break-ins, thefts including two stolen cars, and at least two incidents of gun violence within city limits. We would be curious what those numbers might look like if the survey was done now.
The council discussed continuing the survey. Doing so may help identify potential problems before they get out of control. For example, if there is a sudden shift in the attitudes toward safety in one particular neighborhood, there may likely be a reason that warrants police looking into it further.
The survey results and discussions that followed the presentation of the data at Monday night’s Mayor and Common Council meeting, however, should prove useful in providing the Westminster Police Department a plan of action going forward. And the biggest takeaway might be that safety is often a matter of perception.
With the survey results showing that more residents are fearful of being in downtown or public places at night, perhaps police could increase their presence in these areas during the evening hours. That may also help deter some of the drug activity that Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding and others have pointed to that have directly led to an increase in gun violence through the first seven months of 2018 versus the same time from a year ago.
But while gun violence has gone up, part 1 or violent crime — murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft — has decreased more than 25 percent in the city over the past five years.
Another step that might be a good idea for the police department is to share data like this on a month-by-month basis on the city’s website or through social media.
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, for example, has done a great job over the past few years during the height of the opioid epidemic of sharing monthly overdose reports on its website. While the trends reflected are often not positive, they provide a sense of trust toward the Sheriff’s Office from the community that the agency is being open and honest with them.
That’s not to say we think the Westminster Police Department is hiding something. Quite the opposite. Our recent request for crime statistics was answered in timely fashion. However, being proactive in providing that data to the community regularly so that residents have easy access to it — on the website, social media and through the local press — may go a long way in changing the perception about crime and safety in the City of Westminster.
Providing timely accounts to the media and on social media on open investigations (so long as that information doesn’t interfere with the investigation) will also help quell rumor mongering that tends to happen on Facebook communities whenever a crime may occur, which also greatly affects perception.
Westminster Police are doing a good job, and the officers’ willingness to meet with the community over the past few months to discuss recent spikes in crime should be applauded. However, continuing to share trends and information, whether positive or negative, will only help to improve the perception of public safety in city limits.