CHARLES TOWN - According to The Journal, July 4th was something of an ordeal for the police department in Charles Town, and the issue came up at the last City Council meeting. It seems the city wide ordinance that bans use of fireworks that shoot up into air was not possible to effectively enforce.
“Overwhelming is really all I can say,” Kutcher told the council. “There wasn’t a lot we could do. The mayor and I rode around the city and we contacted as many people as we could. We wrote warnings, we passed out copies of the ordinance, we made kids cry.”
The Police Chief and Mayor went around town passing out printed copies of the ordinance and warning citizens that there would be a citation and a $500 dollar fine if they were caught setting off the kind of fireworks that "goes up in the air and goes boom". I was in fact witness to this on my own street. The Police Chief, Chris Kutcher said that many people completely disregarded the warning and as soon as they were far enough away continued to set off fireworks.
This situation demonstrates an interesting phenomenon. It's a good example of how somehow a democratically elected body has crafted legislation that very few people agree with, and a police department that is forced to use tax dollars enforcing a policy that the people who pay those taxes are almost entirely opposed to. July 4th was great in Charles Town this year. The fireworks were beautiful, and I thank my fellow citizens for being willing to take the risk to remember and celebrate our forefather's fight against tyranny.
The Police Chief mentioned that he thought it was the Cities duty to consider amending the ordinance which sounds like an opportunity to repeal it completely, but he also talked about the size of the department and indicated an interest in increasing the size of the police presence on any particular shift. If it's necessary to prevent violent crime, I'm open to a discussion on increasing the police funding. According to the Kutcher though, that's not the case. He said "We had a homicide last year. The man hours it took crippled us." at the City Council meeting this week. I decided to look into the crime stats a little bit and I was shocked. It seems according to City-Data.com between 2006 and 2019 we had 1 murder.
Since we are a relatively small city, all crimes committed impact per 100,000 stats more than they would in a population with at least that any people. One murder here is calculated as 16 murders per 100,000 which demonstrates that you can't necessarily use the same metrics to measure crime in small populations. With all of that you can see that our crime index is much lower than the national average.
We currently have 10 officers for less than 10,000 citizens. I found an interesting article from Governing.com which helps to put this in perspective. They gathered data from over 1,000 cities around the country. Unfortunately their focus was on cities with 25,000 and more citizens so it's not necessarily a straight relationship to our situation. One thing that is immediately apparent if you look at their data is there does not appear to be any correlation between having more police officers and less crime, at least not at first glance. In fact the opposite might be true. Santa Clara has 9 officers per 10,000 residents while New York City has over 42. These cities are quite close to one another using the same metrics from City-Data.com with a crime index of 218.6 and 221.4 respectively. Assuming that just because we are growing we have an immediate need for more officers seems hasty.
Mayor Trainor recommended the City Council form a committee to determine the right level of officers to keep on shift and on staff. A healthy suspicion of special committees is usually a good thing, but the decision to leave it in the hands of the City personnel department instead does seem to reduce transparency and accountability which I think will come as a detriment to the people.
One thing that is a little alarming to me is that the catalyst for discussing increasing the police force was actually what seems to be a rejection of the legislated policies they are required to enforce. Doesn't it seem more appropriate to instead consider whether or not it's worth sending a gun to someone's house because they are shooting off a roman candle on Independence Day?