I’m trying to improve and expand my reporting skills and repertoire, so I’ve applied to the John Jay College Center for Media, Crime and Justice Guggenheim Fellowship. I’d go to NYC for a weekend, learn a bunch, then come back and do a big story on something related to police and crime. Here’s my pitch, we’ll see if I get it.
Police departments in post-industrial communities
Berlin, N.H., was devastated by the decline of the paper industry, with economic consequences akin to industrial cities in the Midwest. The streets are lined with boarded up storefronts and burned out buildings, and there were 20 suspicious fires last year. Two weeks ago two men were shot during a home invasion; one died. Officers face challenges usually not associated with a community of 10,000 people in rural New Hampshire; challenges they didn’t face 30 years ago, though the city had double the current population.
I will examine how police departments in cities reeling from industrial collapse react to and combat the rise of violent crime as their cities hollow to shells of their former selves.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to Berlin—Lewiston, Maine, two hours east, is on the same river that supported the same industry. It is going through a similar transition, but the transition phase has become everyday life.
Despite efforts to kick-start their economies, the downward spiral continues. Low property values and an abundance of multi-unit properties have made it profitable for landlords to purchase buildings and turn them into slums. The low cost of living entices poor people to migrate to Berlin, or in Lewiston, African refugees to settle. The cities have been changing rapidly, and longtime residents watched from their porches as the transformation unfolded. The police have watched as well.
They are caught in the middle: remembering the old city, policing the new one. They face problems and situations they are ill equipped to handle, with shrinking budgets, changing demographics and limited support. I will report on what those departments do to make up for the shortcomings, and where and how those efforts are lacking.