Public safety paramount in these dangerous times

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: January 15, 2013
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NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012. Twenty children are shot dead in an elementary school. The NRA's suggestion that all schools have armed security officers is ridiculed.

Tulsa, Jan. 7, 2013. Four women (including twin sisters) are shot dead in an apartment complex. The owner of the complex responds with a pledge to essentially do what the NRA suggested for schools — put security officers at the entry.

Geography, the death toll and the age of the victims place these two crime scenes a world apart. What they have in common — as do all crime scenes — is the response by the public employees known as police officers. They are here to serve and protect but also to deal with the heartbreak that every murder brings.

Oklahoma City has had a lot of murder-related heartache recently, with a near record 99 homicides on the books for 2012. In an age when security makes it tough to board an airplane or enter a government building, when background checks are required for multiple activities and when cameras record our every move away from home, police officers still can't prevent crimes such as the Newtown or Tulsa murders.

What they can do is reduce crime with increased patrols, more visibility and more intervention at places (such as the apartment complex) where 911 calls come all too frequently. But to do these things requires manpower. And manpower costs a lot of money.

Oklahoma City faces a decision on how many more officers it needs, how much it will cost and how taxpayers will pay for it. Oklahoma County is grappling with its own safety and security issue — determining the future of a troubled jail. A countywide sales tax vote for a new justice complex is around the corner, perhaps just ahead of a de facto federal takeover of the jail.

Newtown and the Tulsa shootings remind us not only of the need for greater security but also the cost of keeping people safe. John George, president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police, says the city needs 2.47 officers for every 1,000 residents. That would take a force of 1,462 officers. The city now has fewer than 1,000.

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