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OUR OPINION: In Grand Forks, it's 'eyes on the street'

In the past few weeks, a dark cloud has descended over Grand Forks in the form of a frightening string of armed robberies. But the cloud has one silver lining: It is the fact that the more often these incidents occur, the more likely it is that a...

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In the past few weeks, a dark cloud has descended over Grand Forks in the form of a frightening string of armed robberies.

But the cloud has one silver lining:

It is the fact that the more often these incidents occur, the more likely it is that a Grand Forks resident will notice and report something that provides a breakthrough tip for police.

In fact, there's a good chance that some concerned residents in our community already have information that police could use. Let's assume for the moment that the crimes are the work of one person. (Judging by news reports, that isn't a 100 percent safe assumption, by the way.) The robber either lives in Grand Forks or "commutes" to commit his crimes from out of town. Either way, he gets noticed: by his neighbors here or elsewhere, by motorists pulled up next to him at a stoplight, even by relatives who know and may have suspicions about a man matching the robber's general description.

Grand Forks residents should report their concerns to law enforcement. Just as important, residents should be extra vigilant in days to come. No, this isn't a call to be paranoid or hypersuspicious of other Christmas shoppers this week. It's a call to be alert: to look at the world just a little more observantly than usual, just a little more like police officers always do when they're on the job.

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No person can commit such a string of crimes without crossing the fields of vision of a great many other people. And every time a passerby glances, the criminal risks breaking an "electric eye beam" that'll trigger the chain of circumstances that will lead to his arrest. The more crimes he commits, the more likely he is to break one of those beams and sound an alarm in an observer or acquaintance's head.

The result will be the phone call Grand Forks police are waiting for. And the more alert local residents are, the more likely one of them is to contact police with the piece of information that proves to be the key.

As police officers will be the first to admit, the secret to a safe community is not effective law enforcement. The secret to a safe community is caught in author and urbanist Jane Jacobs' famous phrase, "Eyes on the street." It's the thousands of law-abiding citizens whose alertness, knowledge of their community and willingness to be active rather than passive observers is law enforcement's most powerful tool by far.

Grand Forks is a safe community for exactly that reason. Now is the time for residents to put that priceless asset to work by turning our eyes on the street.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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