By Rick Gregory
Senseless acts of violence committed in our country, such as mass shootings in schools, propel gun issues to the forefront yet again.
Violence in our communities and stopping crime are two of the priorities American police chiefs focus on each day. The quality of life in any jurisdiction is eroded by any and all acts of violence and can cause further community problems associated with the fear of crime, including widespread disorder.
As a police chief with more than 30 years of experience, I know first-hand the impact that this type of issue has on the community, our schools and the precious children we fight so hard to raise in a positive and balanced society. In my experience the issue is a national one that will be solved on a local level, community by community.
The challenge is stopping violent crime in our communities, our schools and against our police officers. We can’t just focus on gun control, but rather we must allow ourselves to explore the many facets of this issue.
Reducing or stopping violent crime, and specifically gun violence, must start with a collaborative approach that involves and includes a menu of solutions. The solutions will require a myriad of elements to be successful.
To begin the discussion locally, here are a few topics currently being discussed on a national level that should be included in our local community dialogue:
• Current sentencing laws need to be reviewed and tougher sentences imposed for illegal possession of firearms.
• Prosecute violent gun crimes, when applicable, in the federal system where the punishments are more severe.
• Background checks for all gun purchasers should be considered (private gun sales account for almost 40 percent of total gun sales).
• Restrict subjects convicted of violent crimes (to include some misdemeanors) from possessing or buying firearms.
• Increase local and state law enforcement agency access to National Integrated Ballistic Information Network through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The use of NIBIN greatly enhances law enforcement’s ability to solve gun crimes and thus remove criminals and guns from our communities and further prevent violent crime.
• Ensure that ease of access to professional care and assistance is available to adults and the parents of children suffering from mental illnesses.
• Establish a standard that prohibits those suffering from certain forms of mental illness from buying or possessing guns and share their names with law enforcement. This will require the extensive work of mental health experts to establish an acceptable standard.
• Increase the use of mental health courts in all states and jurisdictions. Mental health courts generally share the following goals: to improve public safety by reducing criminal recidivism; to improve the quality of life of people with mental illnesses and increase their participation in effective treatment; and to reduce court- and corrections-related costs through administrative efficiencies and often by providing an alternative to incarceration.
• Implement firearm micro-stamping, a ballistic imprinting technology, that assists in the forensic ballistic identification process thus helping law enforcement solve and prevent gun related crimes.
• Continue to employ School Resource Officers (SRO) in our schools. These officers are role models and mentors to many children who are impressionable and need their guidance. The SROs also provide support to the staff in situations requiring law enforcement. The SROs are an invaluable component to intelligence-led policing.
I want to narrow our focus to schools and deliver reforms in safety and expand partnerships between educators and those in law enforcement — both from a prevention side and a safety side.
In Provo for example, the school district and police department enjoy a seamless relationship. After the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and on a regular basis since, police and school officials have worked hard to ensure that our children are safe, that officials are trained, and that district leaders are given contemporary input and recommendations for maintaining and improving safety.
I met with Greg Hudnall, associate superintendent of the Provo School District, and together we discussed our plans for preventing and responding to a similar incident. Together, we will begin refining training for staff and police, expanding prevention measures and enhancing violence prevention and crisis response procedures.
As in the past, tests, drills and training will be part of the ongoing response to, and strategy for preventing, school-based incidents.
My job as a police officer and police chief is to reduce crime — especially violent crime, the fear of crime and disorder. I know the steps we are taking to expand community based policing help, but I can’t say for certain that all of the steps we are and will take will eliminate violent crime. I am not sure we can ever stop it.
Random acts of violence occur all over our country and often leave us less informed about how to prevent them. In our city, Provo police officers do everything we can to prepare for it, to prevent it, and to find ways to make it stop. I know I speak for the Provo Police Department in saying we will never stop trying.
Violent crime in America has steadily declined over the last several years. But in some areas of our country, that trend is seeing a reversal.
The national attention and dialogue now under way involving police chiefs and others in our country is a great step. But law enforcement alone cannot solve the problem of violence. The debate and solutions must include our communities — the law abiding citizens who depend on the police to keep their communities safe.
Disarming good citizens is not the answer, but certainly keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people is one thing we must figure out how to accomplish.
That is why the police here in Provo and across the country must continue to partner with the community, elected officials, and social service providers wrestling with this issue through collaboration, inclusion and candid dialogue.
Rick Gregory is chief of the Provo Police Department in Utah.