Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

October 31, 2012

Safety key to better communities

TAHLEQUAH — Criminal justice theory contends a safe community is the result of the quality of life it presents.

As part of the 2012 Northeast Oklahoma Regional Summit held at the Northeastern State University Center Tuesday, law enforcement officials, university academics and several community leaders shared a conversation about the importance providing a safe environment for families, businesses and the area as a whole.

During his introduction, NSU President Dr. Steve Turner provided a brief history lesson on the Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Oklahoma Constitution and the U.S. Constitution to emphasize that individuals ultimately want to feel protected and safe. Turner has a background in law enforcement as well as education.

“You can look throughout time and see that we’ve had this understanding that people expect safety,” said Turner. “Most of us don’t even think about some of the issues that are going on, but you’re going to learn today – especially from these leaders in different areas of the criminal justice arena – that safety is an element, and it does have a significant impact on their communities.”

Turner said he’s learned, over the years, that when it comes to economic development, business owners look to two primary factors when considering location.

“The No. 1 thing businesses will look at to relocate is, can they be successful in the community [where] they’re relocating? Can they [have] a successful workforce?,” he said. “The critical piece of what we have to look at in quality of life  – and we no longer think about it – is safety.”

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Director Darrell Weaver grew up as one of five kids with a mother who governed their home with “the family Bible,” and without drug abuse or violence. Weaver shared a story about his first assignment as a commissioned drug agent, and was astounded to find what people were doing in the alleyways or parking lots of some Oklahoma communities.

“The first drug deal that I ever listened to was in a parking lot in an alleyway in Marlow, and I remember listening to that and I told myself, ‘you mean to tell me this really goes on out here?’” he said.

“We are in a society that is just consumed with this concept of addiction. We are in Oklahoma. Addiction rates are out of sight, and many of these – not just some, but many of them – are very difficult to wrap your hands around.”

Weaver said the drug problems in the state are exacerbated by individual circumstances. For instance, a convenience store clerk, who may be working to makes ends meet as he or she attends college classes, may sell a substance like synthetic marijuana to an undercover drug agent.

“This young man is 18 years of age and doesn’t have a silver spoon in his mouth, like many do in this room, and he’s battling away to get his education. They’re finding a means to get educated and find their way out of a situation and live a clean life, and they’re working at a convenience store. It just so happens that the owner of this convenience store is one of these individuals who’s making hundreds of thousands of dollars off the substance called K2, or synthetic marijuana, which is illegal,” Weaver said.

“It’s a Schedule 1 drug. What do you do with the kid when he sells it to you? Do we arrest the kid? We’ve got to provoke thought if we ever want to get our hands around what’s going on with our drug issues. There is not anything in Oklahoma that would destroy our communities or deter what we want for our state faster than the drug issues. Period.”

NSU Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Cari Keller believes the key to creating a safe environment is involvement.

“Dr. Turner raised a theory called ‘routine activity theory’ that talks about the guardian, the target and the motivated offender. I’d like to speak to about the broken windows theory. The concept of the broken windows theory really involves the community in solutions,” Keller said.

“The gist of it is, you have this disorder that goes untreated. When you have this type of disorder that goes untreated, you have citizens who become fearful and withdrawn from your community. You want your citizens to participate. If they withdraw, you lose your informal social control.”

Keller said as social control decreases, fear of crime and fear of risk increase, which creates a breeding ground for crime.

“[The broken window theory] addresses two types of disorder: physical disorder and social disorder, which probably many of you see in your communities,” said Keller.


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