I've always been frustrated by top-down, bureaucratic logjams and academic abstractions in crime prevention practice. SafeGrowth counters that by targeting neighborhood assets, partnering community groups with police, and using prevention science.
I presented SafeGrowth last December at a public summit in the city of Alexandria, Louisiana. Alexandria has now set the stage to do exactly that. They call it Safe Alex.
Alexandria has been aiming to cut it's high crime rate for a few years. Two weeks ago Mayor Jacques Roy launched the Safe Alex program at a public forum I helped facilitate. It was an exciting event with terrific response. A new team of local residents and experts will lead the charge. Still, the way ahead will not be without hurdles,
One hurdle arose in a newspaper editorial. "Safe Alex attempts to seed a new sense of responsibility in a crime-ridden neighborhood,"it says, "and then, over time, grow different behavior to achieve new, positive results."
It concludes: "The idea is laudable, but it will not take root under current conditions. When a house is on fire, you call firefighters and pump water until it's out. The police should lead the crime prevention effort, not the community."
Unlike a house fire, high crime neighborhoods rarely combust from simple factors, like bad wiring. They combust from years of social and economic decay, family breakdown, gangs, drugs, and so forth. Police can momentarily tamp the flames with enforcement.
Yet enforcement is only the first step. In an Op-Ed response last week I replied, "The faith in targeted interventions and zero tolerance is a case of myth over the reality. Cookie cutter strategies do not work."
You can find my Op-Ed response HERE. (Sorry, they removed it from the site!)
Police may even sprinkle some water on combustible causes with situational prevention or problem-solving tactics. Of course as Gerry Cleveland said in a guest blog two years ago, aside from enforcement, police are not the only one's who can lead that.
So too can functional neighborhood groups partnered with the police. Especially if taught how, those groups are more familiar with local assets to remove the causes of crime combustibility. And they are more likely to take personal, long-term ownership in the solution.
That is the prize on which we must keep our eyes.