Commentary by Racine Police Chief Art Howell: Visioning a Greater Racine

Commentary by Racine Police Chief Art Howell: Visioning a Greater Racine

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After over a year of strategic planning and months of grassroots engagement from many throughout the community, the Visioning a Greater Racine initiative is developing the synergy required to advance the vision. What began as a modest kitchen table-style conversation among a small group of community leaders has evolved into a unique opportunity to reset our community narrative moving forward.

The goal of VGR is straightforward. Through a proven strategic planning/visioning model, it is our objective is to transform the Greater Racine area into a flourishing community where all residents are proud to call home. Under this comprehensive process, residents of all backgrounds engage in the visioning process, voicing their hopes, fears, dreams and suggestions as we work together to define our future.

While aspirational in nature, the visioning process does not ignore obstacles or current realities that present challenges for our community. In fact, the visioning process is intentionally structured to identify all known and potential challenges. When such forces are acknowledged and confronted, specific strategies can be formulated to confront and mitigate problem areas.

As we consider the opportunities before us, we have the luxury of reflecting on the work of two local visionaries. Although facing significant challenges, these individuals were able to envision a better community when the odds suggested otherwise.

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While serving as County Executive from 1982 to 1987, Len Ziolkowski was faced with the challenge of promoting economic and community development in a landlocked environment. The decision to invest in the Racine Marina was not embraced by all when this ambitious project was announced. Against tremendous opposition, Ziolkowski demonstrated great vision in viewing the community as it could be, not so much as it was. The revenue stream we now enjoy as a result of this decision serves as validation of Ziolkowski’s foresight. As one of the premier cultural amenities on the shores of Lake Michigan, many can now see the manifestation of what few could envision. Over time, this vision proved to be priceless.

In a similar display of vision personified, upon his appointment in 1992, Police Chief Richard Polzin inherited a community where Part I Crime was at the highest level recorded in the state. Per capita, crime in Racine exceeded criminal activity in Milwaukee other large cities. Drug trafficking was rampant, homicide rates were at an all-time high and neighborhoods were under siege by drug dealers and gang members.

Traditional policing methods were ineffective in addressing local crime and disorder, prompting Chief Polzin to introduce the Community Oriented Policing problem-solving philosophy. Through harnessing the power of partnerships (a concept now referred to as collective impact), Polzin worked to gain the trust and respect of area residents. Through working with local non-profit organizations, the business community, local churches, government officials and area residents, Polzin mobilized and leveraged all available community resources, strategically fighting and reducing crime in the process.

Through the visionary groundwork laid by Chief Polzin, new COP projects continue to be introduced to this day. While additional work remains ahead, local Part I Crime statistics have reached historic lows in recent years.

I last spoke with Chief Polzin on Nov. 7. At this time, Polzin joined a group of citizens at the Greater Mt. Eagle Baptist church for a VGR session, once again displaying his passion for moving our community forward.

The best way to honor the memory of local visionaries such as Polzin and Ziolkowski is to lend your time, talent and voice in support of the VGR effort. As it is written in the Book of Proverbs, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Art Howell is chief of police for the City of Racine.

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