Reducing Crime and Violence on Public Lands: Case Studies in the USDA Forest Service
Keywords:Collaboration, communication, crime and violence, law enforcement, public lands
AbstractStudies on types and impacts of crime have indicated that crime and violent acts do occur on public lands and have negative consequences for managers of those lands and recreation visitors. It is important, then, to evaluate how to reduce or eliminate crime and violent acts on public lands. To do this, two case studies of the successful reduction of crime and violence within the USDA Forest Service were selected for evaluation.Face-to-face interviews were conducted. This technique facilitates the constant feedback and probing necessary to understand the perceptions of those interviewed. Within the Forest Service, interviews were conducted with Law Enforcement Officers, District Rangers, Recreation Officers, Public Affairs Officers, Resource Specialists, and Recreation Planners. Outside the agency, interviews were conducted with County Sheriff’s Deputies, a resort owner, public relations employees, and community representatives. Interviews continued until saturation (confirmatory and no new information) was reached.Common to both sites were problems such as assaults, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse. Gang activity or extremist groups created problems at the sites, and isolation or distance from assistance was a common theme. There were watershed events that led to action (a riot at one site and a murder at the other). Some of the specific actions taken at the sites to manage crime and violent acts and events were: (1) development of sites; (2) addition of physical barriers (these are categorized as prohibition and harm reduction actions); (3) control of parking and motor vehicles; (4) increased law enforcement; (5) temporary and permanent closures; and (6) traffic checkpoints.Evaluation of the case studies resulted in the identification of key characteristics of success in law enforcement. The key characteristics were: force of personalities (attention to an area depended upon individuals, not on policies); resources (e.g., money and people); persistence (planning, consistency and visibility); collaboration (within the Forest Service, with other law enforcement agencies, with community and volunteer groups, and with recreation visitors and recreation clubs); and communication (communication plan, getting the word out to the public, reliability, and consistency).Site-specific actions might be replicated if law enforcement officers and others are faced with the same or very similar issues described here. However, the key characteristics may be factors for managers to consider when handling crime and violent acts or events that are the same as or different from those in the case studies. These characteristics are not “business as usual” for law enforcement; they go beyond the cooperative agreements that already exist. These extra efforts contributed to success.
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