My hometown of Charlotte, N.C., is/was the nation's second most important banking center. Bank of America is at one end of Tryon Street—our "Main Street" named for a colonial governor who was later hung in effigy on the street that bore his name—and Wachovia is at the other.
Wachovia, a North Carolina institution with roots dating back to well before the Great Depression, has now been destroyed by a financial storm that some think may be the worst since that watershed moment in American history. Which means dark days ahead for the city of Charlotte. That's a long fall for a city that once thought it was recession proof.
But what we've learned in recent weeks is that no business, no community is recession proof. Neither is any government agency, including law enforcement agencies. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will feel the pain of Wachovia's dissolution and the coming deep recession.
Most other law enforcement agencies in the United States will also feel the pain of the recession. Forty-five percent of respondents to a recent poll of 180 police chiefs by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) said that the downturn in the economy has affected their agency's "ability to reduce crime."
"As we see significant reductions [in our budget], we'll be seeing increased response time, fewer cases solved, and reduced services for victims of crimes," Prince William County, Va., Police Chief Charles Deane recently told USA Today. In the same article, it was revealed that his $73 million budget could drop by as much as 30 percent because of declining property tax revenues.
Such police budget shortfalls couldn't come at a worse time because crime is surely to increase in the coming year.
It already has in some sectors. In that same PERF survey, some 75 percent of respondents said that one or more categories of property crime are on the rise in their jurisdiction.
Because this financial crisis was precipitated by bad mortgages and predatory lending practices, it has resulted in an avalanche of home foreclosures nationwide. And even if homes haven't been foreclosed, some homeowners upside down in their mortgages have just walked away, leaving their properties to the bank.
To reduce the number of vacant homes in his jurisdiction, the Sheriff of Cook County, Ill., Thomas Dart, recently declared a moratorium on evictions from houses due to the fact that many innocent renters were being thrown out of their homes because their landlords had defaulted on their mortgage payments. Dart's concern was not only for the people evicted; he was also worried about the number of vacant properties in Cook County that stretch from depressed areas of Chicago out to the affluent areas northwest of the city.
Dart knows that an abandoned home is bad news. It draws criminals like dead critters draw vultures. Blocks of vacant homes in cities and suburbs are sure to be a magnet for gangs, vagrants, drug dealers, drug users, prostitutes, thieves, and God knows what kinds of miscreants.
And no city, suburb, or town will be immune from this blight, regardless of its affluence or its location. Even if your town doesn't have vacant homes, criminals in nearby cities will use them as a base of operations to victimize homeowners in your jurisdiction. Criminals are mobile.
What this means for you, the local law enforcement officer, is that you will have to do more with less. That includes less money for sworn personnel.
Those of you who work in so-called safe suburbs and small towns will have to be as alert as your big city colleagues. As detailed in our article "Gangster Nation," big city crime has come to every town nationwide.
And now with all these vacant houses, it has a place to stay.