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Stott: Need a plan to address violence

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Violence in DeKalb, particularly around the Northern Illinois University campus, is happening with increased frequency.

I lived near campus for five years and have attended NIU for nearly six. I’ve witnessed a sort of transformation in the culture at NIU. On the weekends, students who once worried only about the threat of a serious hangover now may think twice about going out in certain areas.

It’s time for a cohesive, visible initiative to address this problem.

The NIU community maintains a delicate balance between full-time residents, students, people who work in DeKalb and others. At this point, the balance has tilted too far away from a dynamic college town to a community dominated by violence and fear.

Local agencies (particularly the NIU Police Department, which employs more than 40 sworn officers) should develop an aggressive campaign against violence. The purpose of this initiative should be to emphasize that violent behavior isn’t tolerated in this community.

Numerous cities have undertaken community campaigns that target violent behavior. Research at the university level gives some insight into what elements might be most effective.

One example comes from a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who developed a strategy called “problem-oriented policing.” It focuses on similar incidents with characteristics that are related.

Another example is “The Weed and Seed Strategy,” an initiative developed by the Community Capacity Development Office that involved multiple agencies in crime prevention and related activities.

There are many examples and templates that could be used for developing a program in this community.

The campaign, if it has a chance at being successful, should do several things:

• It should address everyone in the community, not just violent offenders. Violence is a community problem that affects more than the aggressors and their victims.

• The campaign should also be aggressive. At this point, the violence is getting worse because the appearance of idleness and lack of control is so prevalent. Violent behavior is occurring more often. This will continue if there is no apparent defense.

• Exposure is also key. Almost as important as a strong strategy, is a presence that cannot be ignored. Give would-be troublemakers reason to think twice about moving to DeKalb. Remind those already here of the consequences of their idiotic actions.

With any major action, there is a risk of failure. When goals are set, there exists the chance they won’t be met. In this case, however, the bigger risk is that troublemakers will develop a sense of being able to get away with crime.

An aggressive campaign against violence should, at the very least, make it clear violent, antisocial behavior is not welcome in DeKalb.

At the very most, it will make the city feel safer for residents who want to live in a safe and prosperous community.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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