|| Community Matters !!
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm happy to offer the article below on behalf of Stephanie L. Mann, on both the LA Community Policing (LACP.org) and Adult Survivor (NAASCA.org) web sites. The issues she presents pertain to general public safety and the safety of our children.
Several years ago we presented what we then called NAASCA's 'Blue Ribbon Neighborhood Watch' campaign. We encouraged public safety advocates to ask for a few minutes to offer Blue Ribbons (the symbol of child abuse awareness) and associated info cards to fellow neighborhood watch members.
included documentation on child abuse and trauma topics, statistics, talking points, and National resources, and we suggested they could be distributed in any venue where folks might be gathered to discuss crime and public safety
(churches, schools, clubs, non profits, improvement associations, etc).
Its astonishing how infrequently the topics of child abuse and trauma comes up in 'public safety' forums, yet children are being damaged in every neighborhood .. and they are our future.
This is a major problem everywhere, in urban, sub-urban and rural America, and one we can not afford to turn away from. People who won't talk about it either suffer from a taboo of discussing human sexuality, especially childhood sexuality, or are in denial.
But engaged community members can make all the difference in reducing crime and improving the quality of life, and wearing a Blue Ribbon is all about raising awareness. It signifies an understanding of the serious nature of the problem our kids face, and indicates our willingness to discuss the issues.
Citizen participation can cut inner city crime in half!
by Stephanie L. Mann, Crime and Violence Prevention Consultant
Gun violence devastates family health and safety! We've all heard about violence in Chicago, Baltimore, Ferguson and other cities. Many Americans want more gun control, while others want more police. These are Band-Aid approaches because they don't address root causes. Based on my 39 years as a crime and violence prevention specialist, here are my thoughts on how to make families, neighborhoods and cities safer.
Gun violence alone cost American taxpayers, $229 billion annually. We could cut that cost in half within ten years if we focused on community responsibility for crime.
Crime is committed by a small percentage of people. However, when criminal activities increase, police are forced to increase crime control and officers may become more aggressive. It is important to note, the national average is 2.5 police officers per 1000 citizens. In many communities, neighbors know each other and protect homes from burglars. They may not know all their neighbors or speak up about youthful bad behavior, which police cannot control. Without a healthy balance between citizen participation and police, citizens can become angry, feel powerless and blame police. Police have limitations and CANNOT protect us without involved citizens.
I started as a volunteer in my unincorporated community of 17,500 residents in 1969. We had a crime wave and NO local police department! Ten volunteers planned and implemented the “Neighborhood Responsibility Program.” We educated neighbors on how to stop burglaries and juvenile crime. Within 2 and a-half years, citizens reduced crime 48% with the help of 2 sergeant investigators hired from the county sheriff's department.
Nationally in the 1970's, crime was increasing at an alarming rate and our community received publicity and questions about how citizens, without a local police department, cut crime. I co-authored, “Alternative to Fear: Guidelines for safer neighborhoods.” The book helped launch the national police program, “Neighborhood Watch.” The book was written to empower citizen groups and funded by the California Youth Authority. However, we were concerned as it was distributed to police departments' throughout the US. Over the years, additional police were hired as crime increased and they promoted “Neighborhood Watch.” Crime declined but many citizens were passive about their responsibility to protect the neighborhood and kids on the block.
My co-author, Shirley Henke, worked for the Criminal Justice Planning Agency and formed the county citizens' crime prevention committee with volunteers from a number of cities. When the committee was organized, we received several grants that provided for a central office with 6 area citizen coordinators. Initially, the Police Chief's Association voted against us saying, “Citizens would become vigilantes.” They insisted the committee hire their hand picked retired police chief to work with our administrator. The second year the police chief was dropped. We had proven that citizens were responsible and cared about their neighborhoods.
For six years, we organized and trained 27 citywide volunteer committees throughout our county. We encouraged volunteer committees to be the change makers and bring neighborhoods together. Our office became a county resource center. As volunteers gained trust, they were able to expose “bad” cops while other officers told us which officers to avoid.
We held monthly meetings and annual award dinners with several hundred residents and police officers in attendance. As neighborhood leaders saw success, they became more evolved; and served on school and hospital boards.
In one city with 73,000 residents, a rapist was caught within five days because 43 neighborhood network leaders got accurate information from the police about the rapist and passed out flyers to neighbors. As responsible citizens took control of their neighborhoods, fear was reduced, trust grew and neighbors protected and controlled youthful behavior. Citizen participation increased city safety with less policing needed.
Some areas were bigger challenges! I've facilitated hundreds of meetings. Often citizens had to vent their anger before discussing neighborhood safety. It took 2 or 3 meetings before residents would listen. One officer showed up with a police protection car. I had to explain, that officers also felt threatened by citizens. Once anger was reduced, citizens and police developed working relationships.
Crime, violence and gangs emerge when young people don't have the support and supervision they need. Together neighbors put a check and balance on destructive juveniles and criminal activities before problems got out of control.
One day a lady came into our office. She was angry with police. They were not doing their job to stop the drug dealers in the park. She explained that the city counsel voted to put a fence around the park to keep the drug dealers out. We discussed police limitations and suggested she get her neighbors involved. Without being noticed, neighbors walked dogs, watered lawns and played cards as they took down descriptions and license numbers, which they turned over to police. Within 3 months, the drug dealers and customers were gone. Barbara and her neighbors went to city council to request the money for the fence be used for new swings and benches for the park. Their request was granted. Ten years later, Barbara Vigil became the mayor of San Pablo, CA. Isn't that the way politicians used to emerge, from the grassroots up?
The Americans excel at helping each other if they are encouraged and supported!
At a neighborhood meeting, the discussion turned from home security to seven and nine year old brothers who were vandalizing property, bullying and stealing out of garages. One man said, “I told that mother to get her kids under control” and she slammed the door in my face. Another neighbor said she called the police. The officer talked to the mother and scolded the boys but nothing changed. The group agreed the boys were headed down a self-destructive path if things didn't change. They decided to appoint two tactful neighbors to reach out and let the mother know they were not there to blame but to help. At first the mother was defensive! However, when the neighbors said they would help, she burst into tears and explained her husband had been incarcerated and the boys were angry. The neighbors reached out and took the boys on their family outings and included them in activities. Ten years later, I saw the mother again and asked about the boys. She said, “I couldn't have done it alone. My neighbors made a huge difference in their lives and now the oldest is in college and the younger one is doing well in high school.”
“We the people” are the tipping point for community change, not the police. The stumbling block is corruption in our cities that allow “leaders” to continue “business as usual.” We need to defuse anger and hire citizen coordinators that look like and speak the language of their communities. They can empower residents and create safer cities.
Talk to your city leaders about hiring and training citizen coordinators. Citizens can move beyond fear and social isolation as they “adopt their block.” Involved citizens restore hope, change attitudes and create peaceful cities. Remember…Police react to crime; citizen involvement can PREVENT CRIME and make neighborhoods safer, healthier places for families to grow and thrive!