“Step it up: Rethinking Public Safety” by Bobby Tugbiyele

Bobby Tugbiyele (too-bee-yell-e) has been the President of Center City Committee, Inc since October 2011. Center City Committee is an organization comprised of a group of community builders with deep roots and experience in promoting the downtown as well as advocating for issues affecting it. Bobby and his wife are both graduates of UMass Lowell who live and work in downtown. Last Thursday night, Bobby spoke at the special city council meeting on late night problems in the downtown. He has kindly shared his remarks here:

In this competitive job market where many job- seekers are discouraged by the prospects of finding suitable employment, there is one piece of advice that I always offer as a workforce development professional- “STEP IT UP!” Rather than allowing the employment landscape to control them, I have each one ask themself: Am I willing to take actionable steps to regain control?”

Shifting the lens from jobs to Public Safety and the recent downtown “riots” that have enveloped much of the downtown discourse this past week and a half, I will once again say it’s time to STEP IT UP! But this time, this is a call for action to all of us, including me, to take a step back and not allow the charged and, often times, uninformed rhetoric control the consensus-building and decision-making process. We have to ask ourselves: Are we willing to take actionable, and for this case I will add, smart, efficient, reasonable and responsible steps to regain control? While I believe (and hope) that many respond with some form of acquiescence to the latter, I want to emphasize that saying and doing something are two separate matters. The case for re-thinking public safety downtown will require a strategic plan proceeded by collaborative and cooperative action from: Lowell Police Department, Lowell License Commission, Lowell City Council and other city officials, Department of Planning and Development, downtown bar owners, residents as well as visitors. This strategic plan cannot and should not fall on one group’s shoulders. There must be majority buy-in and working together towards solutions must be a pre-requisite.

Andrew N. Liveris, President, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, released a book entitled, “Make it In America: The Case For Re-Inventing The Economy.” On his assessment of how the United States has dealt with the loss of manufacturing jobs, he states, “We are talking around the problem, but very few people are actually talking about the problem.” Salient an assertion as that was, it can also be applied to what we are currently facing with respect to Public Safety and violence here in the downtown.

It is easy to have conversations about rolling back hours, but we will be talking around the problems. Broad-based prescriptions are short-sighted and show a reluctance to address the larger issues at play. It is easy to point the finger and engage in the blame game. It is easy to be the critic on the blogs and in the newspaper. All of that is easy. But what isn’t easy–what is challenging and difficult, but necessary–is to have proactive, creative, and sustainable plans to fundamentally improve not just public safety but the overall public perception of the downtown. Let’s engage in sincere, critical thinking and conversation about all the factors contributing to this rise of violence in our downtown.

If we engage in age-ism and try to discourage young people from coming downtown, we will we talking around the problems. If we institutionalize the issue and blame UMass Lowell students, we will be talking around the problems. If we solely focus on penalties as a form of corrective behavior for irresponsible licensees, we will be talking around the problems. Lastly and perhaps more importantly, if we engage in inconsequential political banter and one-ups, not only will we be talking around the problems but we would have to call into question the credibility of the offices and positions we hold which are, by law, expected to protect the health, welfare and safety of the general public–residents and businesses alike.

Here are some areas that need to be addressed. These will surely add to the already growing list of recommendations made by other concerned residents, business owners and community builders:

1. Need to fine establishments who do not clean up the front of their establishments during and after night is over. Curb-side presentation is critical.
2. Need to target the removal of entertainment licenses, not liquor licenses, from bars that violate rules and regulations set forth by the Lowell License Commission.
3. Lowell Police Department bar details – Should/could there be stronger accountability policies for officers to ensure they are making effective sweeps inside and around the establishment during paid shift?
4. Need to diversify the nightlife options for residents and visitors between 6pm and 11pm that remove bars as the sole anchors of nightlife entertainment.
5. Need to implement better and more visible signage that fine individuals according to abhorrent behavior.

These are not meant to be “silver bullets.” But to begin talking about the problems require a comprehensive plan that should address the complexities and root causes. Talking about the problems require taking into consideration all the past, present and future investments that have been made in the downtown. In my pursuit of my own call for action, I have made it a point to talk to and listen to those who have seen Lowell come back and revitalize from what it was in the 1980s. A lot of progress has been made to date in Lowell and I and many others are excited and optimistic about its future. Indeed, some of the problems in the downtown have come in cycles, but while we are dealing with these current issues we cannot afford to get stuck in old debates. We have an opportunity now to talk about the problem and with smart measures taken, make real progress addressing it.
Let’s Step it Up together!

2 Responses to “Step it up: Rethinking Public Safety” by Bobby Tugbiyele

  1. Joe S says:

    Great piece, and equally great advice!

    A couple of comments:
    1. Relative to “clean-up”, this necessarily applies to the establishments that are the source, but also must include “innocent” businesses and residential properties, as “broken windows” would advise. Is there a way to use fines to provide revenue to a fund that would help with both policing and clean-up?
    2. Relative to “abhorrent behavior” – fines would punish violators, and maybe provide revenue for the extra resources that would be required, and signage may act as a deterrent. Another deterrent may be to publicize the results of enforcement of those who do get caught, as that may dissuade others from making the same mistakes. Not much has been publicized about those already caught, such as the Babylon window perpetratror and the Fortunato’s 14.