This report is from Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.
Violent crime, particularly gun violence in the United States is at epidemic levels. In Opelika, we have seen a sharp increase in violent crime with three homicides over the past 14 days. While law enforcement is crucial, the solution to the problem is far more complex. Our Police Department has been working to build relationships and partnerships with the community. Community policing has been identified as an effective and workable investment but simply hiring more police officers will not solve the problem. Cities, like Opelika, cannot arrest their way out of this situation. Our plans must be built around intervention, prevention, community organizations along with law enforcement.
I get emails and phone calls, as do members of the City Council, from people fed up with crime. If we’re going to change this, and we will, our residents must be part of the solution. Every person in every part of our City deserves to live in a safe neighborhood. I challenge all citizens to join us as we do the work necessary to ensure that everyone can reach their full human potential.
The Opelika Police Department cannot pinpoint exactly what may have caused the recent rise in violent crime, but most crimes are drug-related and involve people who engage in other high-risk behaviors. Most homicides result from conflicts among individuals with each other. I wish people had a better way to resolve their conflicts. It is a sad fact that a tiny percentage of the City’s population is responsible for the majority of violent crimes.
In some neighborhoods, too many children are without parents, relatives, teachers, coaches or clergymen to teach them right from wrong, give them loving and consistent discipline, show them the moral value of hard work and study and bring them to cherish the self-respect that comes only from respecting life, liberty and the property of others. Think about how many children grow up where parents neglect and abuse them, where other adults and teenagers harass and harm them and where drug dealers exploit them. Not surprisingly, some of these children kill, rape, maim and steal without remorse. This is a vicious cycle that often results in young people making mistakes that change the course of their lives while deeply hurting their community in the process. Most violent crimes involve a perpetrator and victim of the same race. That is certainly the case in Opelika.
The real problem we face is a disconnect of teenagers and young adults and a culture of violence among them. In many urban neighborhoods, the street or thug culture is real. Many teenagers and young adults are school drop-outs and are chronically out of work. With few skills, they subsist through the underground economy or of illicit drug trading and crime.
An important step our community can take is to begin the process of rebuilding the nuclear family which is the basic social unit consisting of parents and their children living in one household. This will provide emotional and financial stability to our children and their parents. It will provide incentives for parents to achieve and set a good example for their children to follow. It will require parents to take personal responsibility for themselves and their children. We cannot legislate good parenting, but we can work on strategies and programs to strengthen the family.
Like all of you, I am disheartened by the recent spike in violence in the City we love. I have begun the process of appointing a Commission on Crime and Violence in Opelika. This Commission will include our top political, church, business, law enforcement and community leaders. In my opinion, we need a collaborative effort to reduce homicides and shootings in our neighborhoods by targeting individuals and families who are at greater risk of becoming perpetrators or becoming victims of this type of violence. Potential strategies may include connecting with high-risk youth and families, family stability, career development and a gun violence intervention program. The goal should be to strengthen the capacity of residents in high-risk neighborhoods to develop community initiatives that prevent violence from occurring. We need to educate our residents about available resources, reinforce the notion that violence is not acceptable and help community leaders improve neighborhood surroundings to create more peaceful environments.
As we work to turn trends around, our City’s recent violent confrontations have involved gun violence, drug trafficking and domestic violence that often turns deadly. We are providing the resources to address the unsolved homicides. Be assured that the City Council and I are open-minded to finding solutions on what can be a deterrent to violent crime.
I want to thank Chief John McEachern and our police officers who are on the front lines fighting and investigating crime every day. We’ve been running proactive patrols in high crime areas for several months and we’ll continue to do that. Our police officers have a tough job, and they do it with efficiency, courage, and compassion. I am proud of our OPD Officers who are out there every day connecting with our youth, senior citizens and neighborhood groups.
We’re all in this together. I’m asking you to do your part to help us be “more than expected and nothing less than genuine.” I’m praying about this every day knowing that God is in charge. Your prayers will be most appreciated.