Simply enforcing the law doesn't always stop crime. Trying to prevent crime from ever taking place is another key part of public safety. Virginia state and local officials have increasingly used crime prevention as a tool of law enforcement strategy and have established the state as a national leader in the field, according to this analysis by John G. Schuiteman, a public safety expert and former analyst with the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Coinciding with that push, crime rates in Virginia have fallen in the last decade and a half. Although it is impossible to know how much of the decline has been due to crime prevention programs, a good case can be made that these have contributed to the drop.
Crime prevention programs have two major problems: funding has been haphazard and there are no standard measures of effectiveness. Nearly all agencies that use crime prevention techniques do so because at some point they received federal start-up money. And that money waxes and wanes as Congress reacts to crime problems such as drugs, gangs or security threats. (In the current proposed federal economic stimulus package, for example, there are new competitive grants for programs for reducing violent crime.) The problem of measuring success is partly due to the relative newness of the field and lack of standardized information.
The author concludes, "This important but constantly evolving field deserves the full attention of our citizens and policymakers."