Collaborative Community Efforts Help Create Safer, Stronger Neighborhoods
Redevelopment of the Dunbar Hotel in Los Angeles has aided in the reduction of crime in the surrounding area-improving public safety and reviving neighborhoods. Image courtesy of Creative Commons. On January 15, 2014, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the Police Foundation hosted a symposium in New York City called “Safe Streets, Strong Communities” that explored how collaboration between the community and law enforcement agencies can improve public safety and wellness within communities, especially low-income distressed neighborhoods. The symposium’s participants included HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, and other experts.
LISC has been championing this collaborative strategy to address crime and revive poor neighborhoods for 20 years through its Community Safety Initiative. Launched in 1994, the initiative now operates in 45 cities nationwide, forging partnerships among police officers, residents, community developers, business owners, and other local partners to work collectively toward reducing crime and revitalizing decaying neighborhoods.
Stressing the importance of comprehensive strategies and community engagement in tackling crime, Holder told symposium participants that “a holistic approach to public safety challenges is not only effective — but essential — when it comes to advancing these critical efforts.” Secretary Donovan echoed the need for collaboration and spoke about the interconnected nature of community safety, housing quality, and neighborhood revitalization. “We all recognize that the challenges facing our communities are connected to each other,” Donovan said. “Distressed and abandoned housing units are often havens for crime — and contribute to public safety concerns. In turn, no housing can succeed if it is surrounded by unsafe streets.” Finding new ways to work together to revitalize neighborhoods and to make them safe and healthy spaces of opportunity is what HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods effort, is all about, he explained. To illustrate, Donovan described the Safe Passage program in one Choice Neighborhood in which “nonprofits, the city of Chicago, and the University of Chicago are collaborating to place university police officers in key locations to ensure kids get to school and back home safely.”
Donovan and Holder highlighted the Obama administration’s commitment to developing comprehensive strategies for community development and public safety improvement in poverty-stricken communities through programs such as the Promise Zones initiative. Under this initiative, the federal government will provide assistance to and partner with community and business groups in economically hard-hit communities, including areas in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, to increase economic activity, attract private investment, improve affordable housing, expand educational opportunities, and reduce crime.
Holder noted the significance of collaboration in complementing existing programs such as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, which targets high-crime areas in distressed communities across the country by leveraging community and cross-sector partnerships. “[I]t’s imperative,” he said, “that we bring together federal partners, local authorities, and community leaders — and move forward with policies that effectively allocate limited resources — to facilitate long-term success in badly afflicted communities.”
Redevelopment of the 28th Street YMCA in Los Angeles has helped improve safety in the area demonstrating how holistic community development efforts can help reduce crime and enhance community safety. Image courtesy of Creative Commons. Symposium presentations featured cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia that have successfully used community-police partnerships and community development as strategies to target crime hotspots. Mark Wilson, executive director of Los Angeles’ Coalition for Responsible Community Development, noted that in one densely populated Los Angeles neighborhood, redeveloping two deteriorated buildings, the Dunbar Hotel and the historic 28th Street YMCA, has helped improve safety in the entire area. In addition, joint efforts of Los Angeles’ police and the community have helped bring down the gang crime rate in the city by nearly 50 percent over the past 5 years.
In North Philadelphia, the local police have been partnering with the nonprofit organization Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha as well as community members to tackle crime in low-income neighborhoods that have been plagued for years with violence and drug dealing. Philadelphia Police Department Captain Michael Cram noted that five years ago, the police did not have any relationships with the community, which made reducing crime in the area extremely difficult. However, a community fair organized by the police helped officers connect with local residents. Collective efforts to improve safety and revive previously neglected areas have resulted in substantial benefits to the community. For example, close collaboration among police officers, surrounding residents, and organizations including LISC, the Rainbow de Colores Neighborhood Advisory Committee, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, among others, has facilitated the reclamation and revitalization of the previously gang-controlled Rainbow de Colores Park on North Fifth Street in eastern North Philadelphia. The park’s redevelopment included improvements such as new solar-powered lighting, new fencing, and new play equipment, which disrupted criminal activity and provided children with a safe place to play. A year after the park reopened, crime rates in the area surrounding the park declined by nearly 50 percent. Speaking of this success story, Cram remarked, “I would not have been as successful there if not for the men and women we have in the street who believe in this work. We (police) are not the enemy anymore. Residents took ownership of their community.”
The success stories of cities such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other target communities in LISC Community Safety Initiative have demonstrated that innovative community-police partnerships and holistic community development efforts can significantly reduce crime; enhance community safety; and replace troubled areas with quality affordable housing, businesses, and parks that positively transform neighborhoods.