For the 17th consecutive year, FBI crime statistics show that Irvine is the safest U.S. city of its size. And not only the safest, but, once again, considerably safer than other medium-to-large cities. Virginia Beach, the next safest city per the report, had more than 50% more violent crimes per capita than Irvine.
“We’re excited and proud – and prepared to keep up the tradition,” says Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent.
Partnership with community
Each year since 2005, when Irvine began its safety-record streak, city leaders and academics have attempted to explain it.
One leading factor, according to Kent, is continuous city support for a police department with high professional standards and whose members reflect the diversity of Irvine’s residents. It’s a tradition, he says, that stretches back to Irvine’s incorporation in 1971.
“I always say there are two reasons people come to Irvine. One is education, and the other is public safety.” – Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent
“They had a certain vision back then, which was how can you master-plan a city that is as close to perfection as possible?” Kent says. “The idea was to have perfect streets, perfect sidewalks, and perfect policing.”
In the years since then, he says, “We’ve continued to bring in good leadership that gets the message across loud and clear. We are always working to improve our partnership with the community.”
A city designed for safety
Irvine’s master-planned design of self-sufficient villages contributes to public safety, as UC Irvine researchers have found, by creating a sense of “cohesion” in which residents know their neighbors and watch out for each other.
Kent is particularly proud of his officers’ efforts to reach out to residents, through meetings at schools and open houses, and with a newly expanded office of public outreach to replace what for many years had been a single public information officer. The department has also recently acquired two Labrador “support dogs” to accompany officers in high-stress situations.
“I always say there are two reasons people come to Irvine,” Kent says. “One is education, and the other is public safety.”
Growing up in Irvine
Kent was 12 years old in 1990, when his parents settled in Irvine, immigrating from Alexandria, Egypt. Two years later, he recalls, he was riding his bike while listening to his Walkman, when he was stopped by a motorcycle cop for the violation.
“I was terrified – absolutely shaking,” he says. The officer treated him kindly, putting his arm around his shoulders and “behaving like a father,” he recalls, although he still wrote out a ticket. Kent had to go to court and do community service at the Boys & Girls Club, which is when he learned about the Irvine Police Department Explorers program for middle school and high school students interested in law enforcement. The motorcycle officer’s professionalism was fresh in his memory when he joined the Police Department, years later.
“That citation turned out to be my golden ticket, just like for Willy Wonka,” he says. “It’s also a perfect example of the continuing culture of our department.”