Brentwood Mayor Chris Thornton presides over the June 20 Board of Aldermen meeting. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Brentwood Mayor Chris Thornton presides over the June 20 Board of Aldermen meeting. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Better lights, restricted access to some streets might help

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Brentwood Mayor Chris Thornton on July 11 released an open memo to the Board of Aldermen about a spate of crimes in the city over recent months. The memo was sent to The Brentwood Spirit, 40 South News and the Pulse newspaper.

The memo discusses what the city is doing to address crime in the aftermath of numerous car break-ins in May and, in June, a residential burglary on Pine Avenue and an armed robbery on Sonora Avenue. Thornton references a June 28 meeting called by both Ward 1 aldermen to discuss a recent rash of crimes in those neighborhoods. It was attended by Chief of Police Dan Fitzgerald, who also spoke at a meeting on May 17 to address residents’ concerns about the June car break-ins.

The overall message of Thornton’s memo is that alleviating crime here will take efforts not just by police, but by city leaders and residents.

Police. Five police officers are on patrol throughout the city, but it dips to four at times due to injury and illness, Thornton writes. Fitzgerald is developing a staffing plan to ensure all shifts remain fully staffed.

City leaders. Thornton said the Board of Aldermen will support increasing funds for “any reasonable plan to improve our public safety.” To improve lighting at night, he said, “We are working with Ameren to replace the existing light bulbs in our street lights with new, energy efficient, LED bulbs.” Thornton is considering proposing restricting access to some residential areas “to make it harder for criminals to get in and out of our neighborhoods.”

Residents. The mayor urges citizens to take precautions such as locking their car doors, removing valuables from cars and keeping lights on at night.

Thornton’s July 12 memo to the Board of Aldermen is as follows:

TO: Board of Aldermen
CC: City Administrator Bola Akande, Citizens of Brentwood
FROM: Mayor Chris Thornton
DATE: July 12, 2016
RE: Open Memorandum re Public Safety

I am writing to discuss recent criminal incidents in Brentwood and the City’s response.

Let me start by stating that, in my opinion, the most important functions of government are providing those services that individuals cannot easily obtain on their own from other sources. Thus, public safety, roads, sidewalks, parks and other such services are the most important functions of local government. It is no accident that I listed public safety first. Without public safety, the public cannot enjoy any of the other items on this list; therefore, in my opinion, public safety is the most important service government owes its citizens.

I want to thank Aldermen Dimmit and Plufka for organizing the Ward 1 meeting on June 28, 2016. While the discussion at the meeting was limited to recent criminal incidents in Ward 1, it was a very good opportunity for Chief Fitzgerald to share information with the public and for the citizens to share their concerns with their Aldermen, Chief Fitzgerald and the Administration. I believe that the discussion, while focused on Ward 1, is applicable to the entire City. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from the discussion is that there is no single solution to this problem. Reducing criminal incidents in Brentwood will require the police, the City leadership and the citizens to work together. I was encouraged to hear that our citizens are ready and willing to do their part and I clearly heard their request that the police and City join them in taking immediate action in response to these recent criminal incidents.

Another thing I heard loudly and clearly at the meeting is that the citizens would like to see more police presence in the residential areas of the City. At present, the police department plan calls for five officers to be on patrol at any given time. Chief Fitzgerald indicated that he feels this is a sufficient force to patrol both the commercial and residential areas of the City. Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances (injury and illness being the most common) occasionally there are only four officers on patrol. This is understandable and all of our city departments have this problem due to our limited size. It is simply not economically feasible to staff, full-time, for all eventualities. We can, however, recognize that unexpected circumstances will occur and plan accordingly. Chief Fitzgerald has already authorized sufficient over-time to ensure that we will have a full complement of police officers on patrol now and in the immediate future. In addition, he is developing a staffing plan that will ensure that our police department is able fully staff all shifts going forward. I am looking forward to seeing this plan and I have encouraged him to consider any reasonable alternative including, but not limited to; additional over-time, temporary officers, changing shift hours, assistance from neighboring jurisdictions and hiring additional full-time officers. I am confident Chief Fitzgerald will develop a plan that will increase police presence in our residential areas and protect our commercial districts.

In addition to the considerable efforts of our police department, the City leaders must also contribute to the effort to reduce criminal incidents. Perhaps the most important function of the City leadership is to allocate resources (money). Based on my discussions with the Board of Aldermen, I feel confident that the Board shares my opinion that public safety is our first priority and they will support (finance) any reasonable plan to improve our public safety. Another important step we are taking is to improve the City’s lighting. As Chief Fitzgerald indicated, generally, criminals prefer to operate in darkness. We can reduce the opportunity for criminal activity by making better use of our existing lighting infrastructure. We are working with Ameren to replace the existing light bulbs in our street lights with new, energy efficient, LED bulbs. In addition to being more energy efficient, the LED bulbs are brighter and provide better coverage. I anticipate that we will be able to replace most of the City’s bulbs before we “fall back” to standard time in November. Of course, we will continue to evaluate the need for additional public lighting in the long term.

Another idea that I have encouraged the Board of Aldermen to consider is reducing the access routes to our residential areas. One of the reasons Brentwood is popular with criminals is the same reason it is popular among our residents and visitors to our commercial districts: convenient access to and from Interstate 64. If we restrict access to some of our residential areas, we will make it harder for criminals to get in and out of our neighborhoods. Of course, this will make it harder for residents as well, but limiting traffic in residential areas to “neighborhood” traffic might significantly reduce the opportunity for criminal activity and solve cut through traffic problems as well. For example, closing off streets along McKnight road may seem like an extreme measure, but I think such measures deserve serious consideration. It might be worth reducing access routes in a few of our neighborhoods on a trial basis to see if this proves effective in practice. We are talking about serious problems and I encourage the Board of Aldermen and our citizens to keep an open mind and think outside the box when considering possible solutions.

Finally, I am fully aware that this may not be popular, but the most important contribution to public safety comes from the public. You, me, your friends, your neighbors; we must all do our part to reduce the opportunity for criminal activity in our City. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied “because that’s where the money is”. Criminals engage in simple risk, reward analysis when deciding where to operate. The harder we make it for them to get the rewards, the more likely they will find other places to operate. Simple things like locking cars doors, removing valuables from your car, closing garage doors, locking your home, lighting your property and training your dog to bark at strangers (or getting a dog if you don’t have one) reduce the opportunities for “easy” criminal activity. Nothing will stop a determined criminal, but this is a numbers game and reducing the easy opportunities will reduce crime overall. Looking out for yourself, your family and your neighbors is critical and the most important thing you can do to reduce criminal activity in Brentwood. We must create a culture of public safety in Brentwood, where the police, the City and the citizens work together to increase the risks and reduce the rewards of criminal activity in our City. I know we can do it and look forward to working with all of you in making it happen.