Driving the communal ambulance

In looking back at the year just ended, we note great progress embedded deep within a sad familiar refrain. According to aggregated monthly reports from the Pine Bluff Police Department, our annual homicide toll remains far too high and on par with 2012. By the same token, the city’s monthly calls for police service have decreased by almost 20 percent. That equates to an average decrease hovering around 200 calls per month.

While the police struggle to circumscribe the forces driving the bloodshed, it is clear that they have found their stride in combatting many other ills.

It also bears remembering that we as a community managed to refrain from killing one another for almost five contiguous months. That’s something that hasn’t happened in a generation.

Why then did we revert to our old bad habits as 2013 drew to a close? The simplest explanation can be found in an analogy to health care. The police are a lot like an ambulance —- they come in an emergency. They perform triage. They stop the metaphorical bleeding and give situations stability until other resources can be brought to bear against the problem.

Just as we don’t expect the ambulance drivers to cure our cancer, we shouldn’t expect the police to cure our crime. Just like the paramedics, they can keep things together for a while, but for deep-level lasting change, other people have to get involved.

The “doctors” in this analogy are the makers of social policy (i.e. the city government). The “medicine” is more enlightened social policy.

Unfortunately, our social cancer benefits too many individuals with powerful allies in local government. More importantly, some of our social doctors are guilty of gross malpractice.

The analogy extends into causes as well. Just as a person can’t smoke thousands of cigarettes across a lifetime and then be surprised when heart attacks, strokes and cancer manifest, we can’t allow decades of bad policy to exist and then act surprised when crime, poverty and communal decline appear.

To rectify this, we need to do several important and unavoidable things. First, we cannot permit business as usual in the city council. We cannot afford any weak links. We cannot afford petty grudges. We cannot afford turf battles, ego, posturing, ignorance or stubbornness.

Similarly, we cannot afford the continuation of dysfunctional social policy. The most egregious example of which is the paucity of modern land use planning, inspections and consequences for irresponsible property owners. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than the hundreds of blighted and abandoned structures and the legions of poorly managed rental properties.

Of course all this gets in the pocket of those aforementioned powerful allies of local politicians. They convince our leaders that this is how it has to be; that change would be too costly; and that they are not responsible for that which happens on the property they own and manage. As the old saying goes: Everybody is for change just as long as someone else has to do it.

We can no longer afford the luxury of policy for the sake of the influential few. To the extent that our local officials refute this reality, they should be enthusiastically replaced. Until such time as our leadership summons the will to do what needs done, we can expect a repeat of the yearly death toll. We can expect high crime and population decline.

We know the police are doing all they can with the resources they’ve been afforded; but just like the ambulance driver, they must have a place to take the injured patient. At present, city hall doesn’t seem to be receiving.