Chris Healy

The Providence East Side

Providence: One of America's Safest Large Cities

Forbes List of "America's Safest Cities"
#6 - Providence

Providence: One of America's Safest Large Cities
Contributed by

Colonel Dean M. Esserman, Providence Police Chief

As has been widely reported, Providence is a city that has hit its stride. The usual story of the new Providence tells of a city that offers a unique combination of big city energy and small city livability; a city with a great appreciation of the arts, architecture, and history; and a city that was built since 1636 by waves of immigrants and which still celebrates its great mix of cultures and customs. All of this is true.  

But missing from that story is another critical feature of today's Providence: safety. Thanks to the men and women of the police department whom I am honored to lead, and thanks to a community that has taken ownership of protecting its neighborhoods, Providence is one of America's safest large cities.  

While many cities in the United States struggle with rising violence, Providence has effectuated a historic, across-the-board drop in crime. In fact, major crime in the city has dropped a total of 30% in just four years. We've been honored by visits from law enforcement officers from around the country who have come to study the Providence story. It wasn't magic, but it did start with a new mayor who had a vision of how policing ought to be done in Providence.  

Mayor David N. Cicilline came to office in 2003 promising real community policing - city wide, for all neighborhoods - and the rebirth of an agency dedicated to bringing crime down in the city. I am proud to say that the men and women of the Providence Police have accomplished all this and more.  

Police officers are walking neighborhood beats and actively engaging residents and merchants. The presence of that beat officer walking down the street who is known by the residents makes a powerful statement. It says that the police are part of the community too. It reminds neighbors that we're all in this together. Officers know the neighborhood kids. They know when trouble is brewing and they know who to work with to help prevent it.  

We have opened up storefront substations throughout the entire city and built new and strategic partnerships. As a result, we are not only bringing crime down throughout the city, we are also playing a role in the broader agenda of revitalization. We are partners in the effort to help working families overcome persistent poverty and move up the economic ladder, improving our neighborhoods and communities in the process.  

We have established successful collaborations with the clergy, schools, social workers, the Recreation Department and organizations that are making a significant difference in our communities. We have partnered with Family Services of Rhode Island to innovate new approaches to reducing domestic violence. We have partnered with the Local Initiative Support Corporation to help rebuild communities in need. We have partnered with the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence to prevent gang violence before it happens. And we were leading partners in the effort to build Providence's award-winning citywide after-school program called the Providence After-School Alliance.  

Nowhere is the effect of all this work more apparent than in the city's South Side, West End and Olneyville neighborhoods, long overlooked by those interested in living the Providence experience. Today, these neighborhoods haven't just recovered, they have regained their former position as thriving, family-oriented neighborhoods. What was at one time a patchwork of overgrown vacant lots is now a community with beautiful new single and multi-family homes.  

And while the essence of what has helped make Providence so much safer is this old fashioned face-to-face engagement, we have bolstered those efforts with state-of-the-art policing tools. We have built a private, wireless high-speed network across the city that gives patrol officers instant access to massive amounts of data while looking up a suspect or analyzing a crime scene. Statistical mapping of crime activity has also been invaluable for deploying our resources effectively.  

But the most critical factor in the success of all of these initiatives has been a simple principle: Honesty and integrity mean everything. Our badge is a badge of honor, and we will never compromise our honor.  

When Mayor Cicilline hired me, I shared his belief that public safety is a bedrock to everything else in a city. In addition to everyday quality of life, it affects school performance and economic development. And sure enough, we have seen improvement in those areas too. School improvement has accelerated and nearly $4 billion has been invested in Providence in recent years.  

Providence is a great and improving city, and we are honored to be part of the effort to build on our momentum. I thank Mayor Cicilline and the Providence City Council for their unwavering support of the Providence Police, as well as our many community partners, organizations and individuals who continue to collaborate with our officers day after day across the city.  

Just as neighborhood police officers often end up serving as ambassadors for the community, I know that real estate agents are in many ways ambassadors for the cities in which they work. As you tell the story of Providence, I hope you will include the story of the men and women of the Providence Police Department and what they have done to make our great city one of America's safest.  

Dean M. Esserman
Providence Police