Every municipality and public agency around the nation has had to deal with slashed budgets and a “do more with less” mentality in the past five years. Some have been hurt more than others. There was a great article today in The Washington Post about Vallejo, California and their impressive recovery from severe financial downfall.
In 2008, Vallejo was the largest city in the United States to declare bankruptcy. Police services were slashed by 40%, firehouses were closed and crime skyrocketed. Police ranks dropped to about 100 from 155, according to this article in the LA Times.
The Washington Post article discusses how the city reinvented itself and one of the most impressive strategies was the way in which the city utilized resident volunteers to provide many of its public service functions.
One of the most effective measures was its neighborhood watch groups, which jumped from 15 to 350. Residents turned to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter accounts and established email groups to communicate and share information.
While Vallejo’s effort at community policing is impressive, it didn’t start out that way. According to this report, when the coalition first began, residents wanted the police to solve all the problems and didn’t want to get involved. However, since the police force was dwinding it was obvious there wasn’t enough officers to attend to “life quality” issues like grafitti and non-compliance issues in neighborhoods. Eventually, residents began taking responsibility for developing initiatives to help curtail unwanted activity. As a result of these community revitalization efforts, crime rates fell.
The police department also did their part to try to make due with fewer officers. They used technology as a force multiplier and invested $500,000 in a camera system, which allowed officers to monitor a larger area.
The good news is that the city of Vallejo is now doing better than many of its neighbors. Even during the state of California’s terrible budget crisis (see yesterday’s post about the Governor’s proposal to add a constitutional amendment guaranteeing funding couldn’t be cut for public safety), Vallejo is getting by and has a good chance of continuing on this road to recovery. It already has the community support and infrastructure in place to weather the next wave in the financial storm.