Education is key to public safety
By Mark A. Heckler President, Valparaiso University June 21, 2012 6:24PM
Updated: June 21, 2012 6:24PM
Northwest Indiana residents are resilient. During the recent economic crisis, we experienced many of the same challenges that have been felt both statewide and nationwide. Despite these circumstances, our quality of life continues to improve in Northwest Indiana. However, there are still opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
The perception of public safety remains one of the most important indicators of a thriving community. When people feel safe, they are more likely to engage in public activities, go to the parks, get to know their neighbors, maintain their homes and invest locally. All of these things help to build a stronger community. However, when people believe that their community is not safe, they abandon public spaces, pull children out of schools, and even leave an area altogether.
The most recent report from the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council shows that Northwest Indiana has grown safer over time. Major crime rates have decreased across Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties. While this is a positive sign, statistics have shown that our region is still not as safe as the state of Indiana or the nation as a whole.
Youth crime is a major contributor to the perception of public safety. Without innovative prevention and intervention measures, juvenile delinquency can transform into adult criminal behavior. The number of juvenile delinquency cases and juvenile status cases in our region are growing at alarming rates. The number of expulsions and suspensions from school has also been trending upwards in Northwest Indiana, particularly in Lake County. A key way to reduce these problems is to keep young people motivated and in school. According to research published by the University of California Lochner, Lance and Enrico Moretti. “The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports.” The American Economic Review 94.1 (2004): 155-189. Web. 14 Jun. 2012. , increasing high school completion rates by just one percent could have led to an estimated 400 fewer murders and 8,000 fewer assaults nationally in one year.
While increasing rates of juvenile crime, along with rising expulsions and suspensions, are certainly troubling, it is encouraging to see research showing that education can help reverse these trends. As educators, it is our responsibility to cultivate and prepare our youth — our future — into strong and inspired leaders. It is our responsibility to show students the range of possibilities open to them and how they can truly make a difference in the world. By engaging young people and encouraging them to stay in school and away from crime, we can help to improve the quality of life for them and for our community.
For many students, financial circumstances may lead them to believe that higher education is not an option. We as leaders in higher education need to urge our elected leaders to continue to support education funding during these difficult economic times, particularly for those who are economically disadvantaged. Our quality of life depends heavily upon this government investment in education.
Another area of increasing crime involves bias-related incidents. The Community Research and Service Center at Valparaiso University collects data on the occurrence of bias-motivated incidents in Northwest Indiana. These include crimes committed against a person or property of another because of a person’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin. The latest report shows that while the severity of these incidents has decreased over the last 20 years, the number of incidents has increased steadily, thus increasing the overall size of the problem. Many of these incidents occurred in and around the city of Valparaiso, and the overwhelming motivation appears to be race.
This trend must be reversed. We are fortunate to live in a nation that is made up of a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Regardless of personal beliefs or differences, violence and harassment are never acceptable responses. Education is not just about learning reading, writing, and arithmetic; education is about learning from our past and building toward a better future for everyone, regardless of background or belief. We must promote a message of inclusion to ensure that all residents of Northwest Indiana, no matter their background, feel safe in their community.
By concentrating on education, we can reduce juvenile crime and bias-related incidents in Northwest Indiana. This, in turn, will increase perceptions of public and individual safety, strengthening the fabric of our community, creating opportunities for our residents, and improving the overall quality of life in Northwest Indiana.