When Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib talks about crime prevention, he often uses the grade school example about the elements needed to build a fire: a spark, oxygen and combustible material.
“You need a suspect. You need a victim. And you need an environment, which is conductive to that,” he said. “If you’re missing any one of those, you’re less likely to have a crime.”
In the one year since Khatib became interim chief and was later promoted as the department’s permanent leader, his requests for additional resources, namely more patrol officer positions, have gained most of the attention.
But he said that’s only part of trying to reduce Lawrence’s crime rate, which in recent years was higher than other area cities such as Lenexa and Overland Park, and university communities, such as Boulder, Colo., and Norman, Okla.
Khatib also wants the department to help people learn more about how to reduce their chances of becoming a victim and how to make their homes and businesses safer.
“There are a lot of educational exchanges that can take place to let people know how to maximize the environment they have to increase safety,” Khatib said.
His officers and the city’s planning department are working on putting together a public presentation for anyone to attend about how to design a safe environment at home or at a business.
Khatib is not looking to make things complex.
“It does not really mean that you have to put a bunch of cameras up,” he said.
It can often be as simple as making sure there are decent sight distances from your front porch by not having overgrown shrubs or trees or installing fences you can’t see through.
Sean Passmore, a Lawrence resident, is concerned about certain safety aspects downtown. In one example, Passmore, who often works downtown at night, said he worried about a new wall constructed near the northwest stairwell of the city’s New Hampshire Street parking garage and near the seven-story First Management Inc. building under construction at 901 N.H.
“My main contention is it just cuts down on the visibility,” he said.
Passmore said it’s caused him some trepidation as he exits the garage.
Robert Green, construction director for First Management, said the wall, which was constructed according to the city-approved site plan, was built to screen the building’s generator and Dumpsters. He said the exterior lights on the building will illuminate the area near the wall.
Khatib said he could not comment on the specific example because he had not seen it. He said often in the planning process there could be balance between many things, including trying to prevent noise, for example.
Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services, said the police department’s neighborhood resource officers have provided recommendations about security issues in some other projects. They’re not requirements but comments or recommendations for property owners to consider. McCullough said the most specific example he could recall was input from officers about lighting near gas stations and making sure clerks have a clear view of gas pumps.
“These are some helpful suggestions from the experts,” said McCullough, who believes the comments are aimed at reducing possible safety risks and curbing the potential for crime to occur.
The police chief did say he sees opportunities to improve safety downtown, including the lighting in some parking lots. He said some downtown businesses offer good examples about a safe environment. They are well lit and have open windows where people passing by can see inside. That way if a clerk is possibly in danger due to a robbery or something else, someone passing by is more likely to notice it.
Some other businesses, he said, clutter their windows or cover them completely with posters, for example, and it’s less likely someone passing by can see inside in case something dangerous is happening.
“I’m hoping that if we can educate,” Khatib said, “and people incorporate some of the concepts into their environments, we’d be ahead.”