Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Crime time re-revisited: a set of programs focused on reducing crime

Because crime waxes and wanes, discussions about crime and public safety issues are a perennial topic, especially since media and government responses are episodic and tend to not address more systemic and structural elements of the problem.

I wrote a series of pieces on "Crime Time" in 2006, when cities like Philadelphia were experiencing a serious uptick in time. And I wrote about this last December, in Crime time revisited."

We're in that kind of place today, where many cities, including DC, are experiencing an significant uptick in serious crimes, including murder, assaults, and armed robberies.  

There is no question that unrest in response to the various police shootings of African-Americans and the subsequent response in various communities has likely increased anger and a greater willingness to act out violently.  Baltimore has experienced a massive crime increase in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, which some call the "Ferguson Effect" ("In Baltimore Arrests are Down and Crime is Way Up," Marginal Revolution blog).

Former police officer and professor Peter Moskos argues that in the aftermath of Freddie Gray, more police officers are required to respond to each call, sapping their resources, preventing proactive policing, and reducing the number of arrests made per officer ("Crime in Baltimore Rises as Support for Police Declines," New York Times).

About two weeks ago, there was a crime summit which brought a bunch of police chiefs to the city to discuss experiences and best practices ("U.S. Police Chiefs Meet to Address Rising Homicide Rates," Time Magazine).

And the city did a recent "All Hands On Deck" event with police on every corner in the Woodland Terrace public housing project with 201 units in Southeast DC ("Deadly violence has become all too common in one D.C. neighborhood" and "Killing an example of chilling violence in DC's Woodland Terrace," Washington Post).

Mayor Bowser has expressed her empathy with citizening the crime wave.  And there was a program ("Reacting To The Spike In Violence In Southeast D.C.") on Monday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show featuring a number of Southeast DC community activists and organizations.

What to do -- long term

1.  The first thing I thought about in response to the AHOD event in Woodland Terrace was that DC needs to launch its own version of Los Angeles' Community Safety Partnership, which embeds police officers and implements community programs in various public housing developments in the Watts community.

Apparently, Albany, New York has a similar program, called Neighborhood Engagement Units ("Back on the beat," Metroland).

-- past blog entry, "Los Angeles police department "Community Safety Partnership""
-- Pathway to Change: African Americans and Community Policing in Albany, Center for Law and Justice

The All Hands On Deck response isn't 24/7/365 like the Community Safety Partnership approach.

People could argue that DC's organization of "Police Service Areas" does the same thing as the Albany program, but police officers aren't embedded in high crime areas in the same way that these other programs seem to work.  It's more of a reporting relationship for interested citizens, rather than a way to engage police officers in an ongoing, day-to-day manner.

There is no question that most cities need to rethink how they address community safety in high crime areas.  The warrior method isn't working.

2.  The city and the police department need more focused crime interdiction programs for places with persistent problems.  See "Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex."

3.  A big problem is the failure to provide adequate programming for the mentally ill.  Many of the people caught up in the criminal justice system have mental health problems.  I was surprised to see that Los Angeles is creating a special jail unit to deal specifically with inmates with mental health issues ("LA County to relocate some inmates, build jail to treat the mentally ill," Los Angeles Times.

This guy in New York City (image at right), who repeatedly urinates in public ("20 years of cleaning up NYC pissed away," New York Post), is an example of someone with serious mental health issues.

Arresting and incarcerating him doesn't address his underlying problems and won't cure him.

Police officers are put in a terrible position of being the default responders for mental health problems.

4.  I have written about this before, but with regard to summer school programming, I think that DC needs to consider:

- Year Round Schooling, so that there aren't such long breaks in the summer
- and/or Enhanced, Enrichmment-Focused Summer School programs -- they have to be great, not just more traditional lecture-based instruction.

5.  And create cooperative high school education programs that could include externships and income for high school aged youth.  This is complementary to the next recommendation.

6.  Besides a bottom to top review and revamp ("Can a troubled summer jobs program give D.C. the results it wants?," "D.C.'s summer job program starts — and the heat is on Bowser" and "D.C.'s Summer Youth Employment Program," Washington Post), the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, especially because many of the participants are post-high school age, could be extended to an all-year program, comparable to the Federal Government's Vista and comparable programs and other job development and workforce readiness programs.

7.  And recreation centers, parks, and libraries in areas of greatest need should have more extensive program and be open for longer hours in the summer, say til 11pm.  Los Angeles ("Crime falls 40% in neighborhoods with Summer Night Lights program," Los Angeles Times, Greensboro, NC, and Muskegon, Michigan, among other places, have such programs.

From the Muskegon Chronicle article "Summer Evening Recreation Program at Muskegon High School gets young people off the streets":
“It was a lot of fun last year and we expect more this year,” Adkins said of a program that drew on average 400 youth on any given night. “We encourage parents to come with their younger children. This is for anyone in the Muskegon area, not just the city or Muskegon school district.”
There are also "midnight basketball leagues."

-- Parks After Dark: Preventing Violence While Promoting Healthy, Active Living report, LA County Department of Parks and Recreation
--The Real Deal:The Evolution of Seattle, Washington’s At-Risk Youth Program
-- "Rethinking Sports-Based Community Crime Prevention: A Preliminary Analysis of the Relationship Between Midnight Basketball and Urban Crime Rates," Journal of Sport and Social Issues

8.  Plus, why do outdoor pools start closing in mid-August, shouldn't they stay open through September?

9.  There should be improvements with halfway house programs and more general monitoring of ex-offenders, along the lines of programs like those once successful in Boston.  See "Straight Outta Boston" from Mother Jones Magazine.

What to do -- short term

I don't know.  There are issues with synthetic drugs, gun violence, not enough police officers on the beat generally, and not enough officers working at night, when crimes most typically occur.

Providing long term approaches will reduce crime in a more structural and structured manner compared to the results of short term responses, other than the current cohort of active criminals (for example, "Two men sought in rash of D.C. armed robberies"  and "In DC's homicide spike, a new trend: Some involve past violent offenders,"Post--although I don't see how this particular pattern in homicides is "new") being apprehended and imprisoned.

Usually that is what is going on when crime spikes upward.  A "new" group of active crime perpetrators commits a bunch of (pattern) crimes, the police recognize the pattern, and eventually the criminals are apprehended, and in response, the crime rate drops.

It's a recurring, and at least to me, common cycle.

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At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one thing that is extremely critical and has been completely ignored in this whole protest debacle in recent months- the Ferguson ordeal, etc. - is this- that police need to start using a means of taking down violent people or other misbehaving types with non lethal force- and a knockout dart needs to be developed and used. It is seemingly against police culture to do this but it could easily work and it would ratchet down the anxiety and eliminate excuses for more violence .Sadly this is not in the discussion. We can easily take down elephants or wild game with darts that cause no harm and yet we will not do this with people- we can only kill them- to me this makes no sense at all

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

I lay a lot of this on our police response. In the post-Ferguson world there seems to be a national stop work order. Or slow down. Even the basics of community policing and being aware of surrounding communities has been seems to be off the radar. Here in NYC, whether the peeing story or other criticisms, are being led by the police union as an attack on DeBlasio. Right now police are photographing homeless people and sharing the pictures online to shame DeBlasio.

And yes, we need to teach American cops about non-violent conflict resolution and how to deal with mental illness. Similarly to how European police are trained. But that ship might have sailed, we have a paramilitary police culture and that only continues to get worse.

I'm very discouraged by this situation and I don't see a way out of it that is easy. I've been worried about this for 20 years. We've empowered police and the prison culture to such a negative state that without a wholesale cultural shift and that's going to be a very bumpy ride.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

There was a really good piece in the NYT by Charles Blow, pissed about the All Lives Matter narrative, making the point that African-Americans are by far disproportionately affected by police action.

... but the thing is, like you, I've been clued into the police warrior issue for a long time. And I remember a conversation I had with a college roommate about police brutality maybe in 1981. As he said about me, "you favor government, but don't favor wrong doing by it."

Granted, Ann Arbor is lily white, but because at least in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the then recent experience with demonstrations, the local police dept. was pretty harsh with college students and demonstrations, and I had some personal experience with this.

The same with the creation of a college police dept. I created an editorial cartoon for the student govt. newspaper making the point that the head of the campus security dept. wanted it to become a police department, because he lost the election to be Washtenaw County sheriff.

In any case, those of us concerned with civil liberties were concerned about creating a campus police dept. with limited checks and balances.

In Michigan, the public universities are unique in that they are considered a fourth branch of govt. with separation of powers. So sure, there are connections with the legislative and executive branches over state appropriations, but otherwise they are pretty disconnected. The boards of UM, MSU, and Wayne State are publicly elected, but pretty disconnected in day to day reality from accountability to the voters.

(Ironically, my jr. year, the guy across the hall in my dorm. was the son of the sheriff of Macomb County, and that sheriff eventually lost his job for illegality.

A different son ended up replacing him and is now the County Executive.

And I guess the guy who lived across the hall from me is a district court judge.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

A few counter narratives:

1. Drug legalization in DC isn't reducing crime.

2. Are cell phone grabs down since various activation locks are in place (my sense yes).

3. As with many things, we are managing by the metrics, and not focusing on the bigger pictures. Too much chasing around, not enough crime prevention.

Look, this city is easy pickings. Will continue to be easy picking until something bites back. Police won't in this black lives matter world. Looking at my 400+ crime alerts for the 3D this year I've seen one white male mentioned as a suspect.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Many years ago the City Paper did a piece comparing DC's crime rate and murder rate to Honolulu. I considered doing a response but it would have sounded racist: that it's a function of economic class and race demographics of the respective cities.

2. Obviously, DC's crime rate is a function of economic characteristics and racial demographics.

Granted that suspicious person reports are going to reflect innate bias, but as you point out, the reality is that crimes against people and property (not drugs) are most likely to done by poor African-Americans.

... comparable to how in most of the murders and serious crimes in the Langley Park/Takoma Crossroads area are Hispanics.

3. It all comes back to the Marshall Plan thing, which I am still working on, but I've been sidetracked by a big hail mary project that in fact does address a wee bit of that, but I do plan to get back to it.

Even so, that requires a long long time to change the underlying conditions, circumstances, and people.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

good point about "legalization" but I'd say we're not where there is real legalization, so we aren't seeing the benefits yet in terms of crime reduction.

2. re the point about "biting back", my first reaction to what happened in Baltimore was "now I understand why DC has so many cops." In our case, about 2x the number they have in Baltimore, although Baltimore is larger but with about the same population.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Again why stop and frisks and "jump squads" actually work. Deterrence.

I suspect DC police are using some sort of facial recognition software. Lots of other ways to track people as well.

If I remember, Marshall plan only worked AFTER we blasted Germany back into the stone age.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

summer youth engagement program in Minnesota.

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