Springfield Must Be Vigilant in the Fight Against Fear

Springfield Police Commissioner Ed Flynn believes his department is winning the war against violent crime — or at least several key battles. The latest statistics, which show pronounced declines in such categories as rape, aggravated assault, and motor vehicle theft, would seem to bear this out.

But there is another fight his department is waging where the gains, which are impossible to accurately measure, are apparently less-pronounced. This would the fight against fear, which, as anyone in the business community knows, must be won, and decisively.

That’s because, in the larger scheme of things, while the law-abiding people who live, work, and play in Springfield are seemingly safe, at least in the commissioner’s estimation, many do not feel safe. And as long as that perception holds, this city will never enjoy the full economic recovery everyone is anxiously awaiting.

In a comprehensive profile of Flynn in this issue of BusinessWest, Springfield’s first police commissioner talked at length about fear and how it is impossible to understate the importance of controlling it when it comes to the economic health and vitality of not only this city but the region surrounding it.

If people are afraid to come to a community, then businesses across every sector will suffer to one degree or another. This is why public safety is at or near the top of every list of priorities for those involved with economic development.

But a community cannot will people to feel safe, and all the statistics in the world won’t get that job done, either. People will feel safe when they are convinced that they are. Such convincing will come only through one’s experiences, not from crime stat reports or press conferences.

And there has been progress made in this realm of experiences — one can see it in the city’s downtown. Those who have worked there for some time can, or should, notice a decline in the number of panholders and homeless people on the streets. Why? Because the police department has made such issues a priority in recent months, and the city has succeeded in moving many of the services created for such individuals, such as the homeless shelter that previously existed in the York Street Jail, out of the larger downtown area.

While some individuals who work on behalf of constituencies such as the homeless regarded the city’s actions as somewhat cruel and unnecessary, they were very necessary steps when one considers the general good of the business community and the city as a whole. Yes, the homeless have needs, and panhandlers are people, too. But the rights and wants of these individuals must be addressed in a thoughtful, intelligent manner that doesn’t jeopardize the community’s overall economic health and well-being. This is basic common sense.

There are still some homeless people to be seen downtown, and there are still panhandlers trolling for loose change. But we think it’s fair to say that most who work in downtown should feel better about walking down Main Street and State Street and should feel safe or at least safer.

Whether they do or not is another story, especially when area media outlets are still playing up violent crimes committed anywhere in the Valley, and especially in Springfield.

The bottom line is that Flynn, his department, and officials in City Hall and the Finance Control Board offices must continue to be vigilant in the fight against fear. There is simply too much at stake for the city and the region.