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As a result, more small town police departments today have access to online resources and law enforcement networks. Not surprisingly, these innovations have provided small town police departments with access to the same level of online resources as their larger urban counterparts. For instance, a seminal study by Wasby (1975) found that there was a lack of communication of important Supreme Court decisions to small town police departments. The findings of the Wasby study were likely made obsolete by police administrators' higher educational levels today and by the introduction of Supreme Court opinions and case commentaries on the Internet, thereby providing easy access by small town police departments (Zalman & Smith, 2007).
Likewise, in their analysis of small-town police department information needs, Winn, Bucy and Klishis (1999) emphasize that even in "low-tech, nonmilitarized" settings, small-town police departments are increasingly experiencing the need for the same type of technology that their larger urban counterparts enjoy. For instance, these authors emphasize that, "In the Information Age, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power. For security professionals, the precise knowledge of what transpired when a security breach occurs is key to preventing a recurrence and, in the best cases, catching the criminals. Accurate and reliable incident report information is as critical to the security mission as state-of-the-art access control" (Bucy & Klishis, p. 93).
The impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the need for localized emergency response efforts has also resulted in a trend wherein smaller police departments are seeking out the same types of emergency response and tactical equipment that larger departments possess, but many either lack of the funds needed to acquire such equipment and the training required to use it effectively once it is obtained. The results of a recent study by Latourrette, Peterson, Bartis, Jackson and Houser (2003) found that the procurement of personal protective equipment for smaller municipal police departments and the provision of training in its use continue to lag far behind the need. A police official in one smaller municipality reported, "We are the only public servant first responder [organization] that has never been mandated to have such equipment" (quoted in Latourrette et al. At p. 54).
Likewise, another representative from a small-town police department in a heavily industrialized region of the country described how his police department was relatively well prepared in terms of communications, hazmat, and incident command; however, in terms of personal protective technology, this official stressed: "We are sadly lacking. To put an officer out there with insufficient training and equipment is not right" (quoted in Latourrette et al. At p. 54). Some small-town police departments have managed to acquire some lesser expensive equipment which they have found just as useful and effective as their larger city counterparts. For instance, Nolan (2005) reports that the police department in Junction City, Louisiana, acquired Tasers and non-lethal weapons and ammunition in recent years and have experienced highly positive results. According to Nolan, "The Tasers are especially useful in a small department such as Junction City, where often a single officer works patrol with backup from neighboring agencies 15 or more minutes away. Because of his small staff, the chief is always chasing down new technology. His department is the first in Lane County to acquire Tasers, and was the first to buy bean-bag rifles a decade ago" (Nolan, p. 1).
Notwithstanding the traditionally benign "Mayberry"-type views of crime in smaller communities consisting of bootleg moonshining and the occasional domestic disturbance, the fact remains that police in these smaller communities face many of the same types of violent crime as big cities but the small town police departments lack the training and equipment they need to be truly effective first responders. As Latourrette and his colleagues emphasize, in small towns, "The low baseline of personal protection preparedness combined with high performance demands on personal protective technology used in law enforcement creates particularly difficult hurdles standing in the way of improving the health and safety of law enforcement responders in the line of duty" (p. 54).
Increased Illegal Drug Activity.
Many rural communities have experienced an increase in the incidence of illicit drug trade and manufacture. As noted above, many small-town police departments have faced increased economic pressures to become more cost effectiveness. In response and because resources are by definition scarce, some small-town police departments have collaborated with the U.S. Justice Department to effect arrests of these perpetrators while securing a large portion of the proceeds in the process. In this regard, Blumenson and Nilsen (1998) report that many small town police departments have benefited from a separate "equitable sharing" provision of the Drug Enforcement Administration that allows local police to federalize assets that are forfeited in such drug-related cases. According to these authors, "This law gives police a way to circumvent their own state forfeiture laws, which often require police to share forfeited assets with school boards, libraries, drug education programs or the general fund.... If a U.S. Attorney 'adopts' the forfeiture, 80% of the assets are returned to the local police agency and 20% are deposited in the Justice Department's forfeiture fund" (p. 11). The U.S. Justice Department has transferred almost $1.4 billion in forfeited assets to state and local law-enforcement agencies in recent years, and some small-town police forces have increased their annual budgets by a factor of five or more through such drug-enforcement activities (Blumenson & Nilsen).
A number of rural communities have also experienced an enormous increase in the number of methamphetamine laboratories that have sprung up in some cases, virtually overnight, resulting in the concomitant introduction of drug abuse and increased incidences of properties crimes that go hand in hand with such activities. In this regard, Hohman, Oliver and Wright (2004) report, "Methamphetamine abuse is on the increase, particularly by females of childbearing age. In California from 1992 to 1998, methamphetamine as a primary drug rose from 11.2% to 22.4% of all alcohol and other drug treatment admissions for females, and from 6.8% to 13.5% for males" (p. 373).
Although this trend was originally confined mostly to western states and Hawaii, recent studies have shown that methamphetamine abuse and its illegal manufacturing activities are now spreading to the southern, northwestern, and midwestern United States (Hohman et al.). According to these authors, "Initially thought to be a relatively benign drug, problems from its use in the 1960s and 1970s led to federal legislation that severely restricted legal production, which caused an increase in illegal methamphetamine production laboratories. Most of these laboratories were in the rural western and southwestern United States, because the chemicals used in methamphetamine's production (precursors) -- ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- were easy to obtain in Mexico" (Hohman et al., p. 373).
Just as small-town police officers have traditionally been able to literally "sniff out" such clandestine activities as moonshining in their communities by the pungent odor creating by its manufacture, many methamphetamine manufacturers sought out smaller towns and rural communities because of the tell-tale odors that are associated with its production, these small town police officers now have another illegal scent to follow. For instance, Hohman and her colleagues advise, "Such laboratories were located in rural areas to avoid detection of the powerful fumes emitted during the manufacturing or 'cooking' process" (p. 373).
Increased Gang Activity.
While drug activity may or may not be related to gang activity, there has been a discernible increase in the incidence of gang activity in smaller towns across the country in recent years. For instance, Howell and Egley (2005) report that, "Many small towns and rural areas are experiencing gang problems for the first time. In other communities, local observers jump to the mistaken conclusion that gangs are present. This may occur because small groups of delinquents are very common, even in the smallest communities" (p. 1).
Gang-Problem Patterns in Small Cities and Rural Counties, 1996-2001.
Smaller Cities (Populations between 2,500 and 25,000) of total
Agencies Reporting Persistent Gang Problems
Agencies Reporting Variable Gang Problems
Ratio of Variable to Persistent Gang-Problem Agencies
Source: Howell & Egley, p. 2.
Figure 1. Agencies Reporting Persistent Gant Problems.
Source: Based on tabular data in Howell & Egley at p. 2.
Figure 2. Agencies Reporting Variable Gang Problems.
Source: Based on tabular data in Howell & Egley at p. 2.
The gang problems identified in the table and figures above, though, must be considered in light of some significant differences that exist between small towns and larger cities. While a significant number of smaller city and rural county agencies reported experiencing gang activity during the period from 1996 through 2001, the majority of these reporting law enforcement agencies experienced the type of gang problems that were relatively minor in terms of size (e.g., number of gangs and gang members) and impact on the community compared to their larger city counterparts (Howell & Egley). These authors conclude that, "Thus, the sudden appearance or announcement of a gang problem in a…[continue]
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