Reducing crime in public housing
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 17, 2012 | 2079 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If Sonny McMahand wanted to make headlines during his first few weeks as the new director of the Anniston Housing Authority, then consider that mission accomplished.

Crime rates at Anniston’s public housing complexes are historically high, an uncomfortable trend that puts Anniston in line with most other U.S. cities. It’s not a problem of which Anniston has sole ownership.

Nevertheless, it’s here, and despite fits and starts of occasional improvement through the years, Anniston Police continue to respond to elevated numbers of calls at the city’s public housing complexes.

This week, McMahand told the Board of Commissioners of his plans that include surveillance cameras, community policing, resident policing, improved background checks and lease enforcement.

We commend McMahand on taking this tough, but needed, stance.

We also remind both the director and Anniston Police that there’s more to this situation than simply tamping down crime rates in public housing.

Law-abiding residents of public housing fall easily into stereotypes that are both unflattering and unfair. Street-corner viewpoints consider those who live in public housing to be shiftless, willingly unemployed and accepting of people’s criminal ways, or worse.

For those who abhor crime and value safe neighborhoods, nothing could be farther from the truth. To paint all public housing residents with such a wide brush would be a terrible mistake that dehumanizes too many. We urge all involved — all Annistonians — to avoid that blunder.

That said, McMahand and Anniston Police know what they’re dealing with. Their task is both urgent and difficult.

Police have long said a high percentage of crimes in public housing are committed by non-residents: friends, visitors, family member and unwelcomed guests. That alone presents law enforcement with a dilemma — how to monitor who’s there without turning public housing into gated camps whose prison-like connotation is as strong as their effectiveness.

As McMahand told the board this week, there are many reasons why crime rates in Anniston’s public housing are unacceptable. Too many residents won’t point out the suspects. Too many non-residents cause trouble. For everyone involved — from police to residents to city leadership — there’s enough fault to go around.

All Annistonians deserve safe neighborhoods in which to live. If McMahand’s plans can help police reduce crime rates in public housing, the entire city would benefit.
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