This is a guest post by Jason Cooper, program director for crime reduction initiatives at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
Many cities beset by high rates of crime face economic and social problems that go well beyond the capacity of police to address. As such, stepped up enforcement, on its own, is rarely enough to drive long-term progress.
That challenge, however, opens the door to creative strategies that both focus on prevention and address threats to the overall quality of life.
That is why the Justice Department’s Innovations in Community-Based Crime Reduction Program (CBCR) has proven to be so powerful. With an April 30 deadline for the next round of funding, the program provides competitive grants to help cities target and prioritize crime hotspots.
This place-based model for crime reduction is unique because it promotes collaboration among nonprofits, business owners, government agencies, law enforcement, public health officials, researchers and residents—all working to create places where people want to live, work, play and learn. These cross-sector teams take a comprehensive approach to crime, taking on challenges related to housing, education and health as part of broader efforts to address violence, substance abuse and other public safety challenges, while also improving relationships with police.
My organization, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), has been the national training and technical assistance partner for CBCR since 2012, and we have seen first-hand how and why CBCR succeeds. During that time, CBCR has made nearly $55 million in grants to support work in 74 urban, rural and tribal communities—places as diverse as New York, Atlanta, San Bernardino, California, and Meridian, Mississippi. Nearly half the coordinating agencies for the program are municipal or county government agencies.
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The impact of this program is compelling. In fact, LISC researchers have cited crime drops as large as 41 percent in places where collaborative strategies like CBCR are at work.
“When fixing one thing seems to depend on fixing something else, where do we start?,” asks Maurice Jones, LISC CEO, in the introduction to a 2017 community safety report, Place, People, Police: The effects of place-centric crime reduction in three neighborhoods, which draws upon LISC’s work supporting collaborative partnerships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Philadelphia; and Providence, Rhode Island.
“First, people: We support direct engagement with residents who understand the local dynamics and can help identify the source of problem,” he explained. “Second, place: we tackle blight and lack of economic opportunity, bringing resources to local partners who have the capacity to change the environments of high crime places. Finally, policing: the actions of law enforcement are more effective–and often more efficient–when they are shaped by the community’s understanding of problems and backed by an effort to change the spaces that encourage and motivate crime.”
In practice, that plays out in varying ways, based on individual communities. In the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, local nonprofits worked with the Providence Police Department and city agencies to take on four crime hotspots. Interventions included community policing, rehabbing a house once associated with drug use into a family’s home, and redesigning a park with better lighting and programming to make it safe for children and families. The neighborhood—once one of the most dangerous in the city, saw significant and sustained reductions in crimes like assault, weapons violations, vandalism and prostitution. CBCR helped fund the integrated effort.
This same approach has been effective in addressing the impact of the opioid epidemic. In Dayton, Ohio, CBCR has helped bring together a multi-sector coalition to deter drug use, help addicts get treatment and provide rapid response to deal with overdoses. Police work closely with community groups, health professionals and residents—even carrying and administering Narcan, the opioid antidote, in the field. The three-year average of crimes against property during the CBCR implementation period (2013-2015) decreased 26 percent in the community. This decrease bettered citywide totals by 1.5 percent.
Interestingly, it all started in Dayton when a local nonprofit was analyzing data to understand what was driving a spike in property crimes. They found that nearly 90 percent was related to drug use. That realization was a turning point for the whole community—one that, today, is saving lives.
It is critical that these types of efforts get the support they need. I strongly urge municipal leaders with a vision for safer, stronger communities to apply for CBCR funding.
Over time, the impact can be transformative.
About the author: Jason Cooper is a program director overseeing crime reduction initiatives at LISC. LISC is a national social enterprise that invests more than $1 billion a year to spur economic opportunity and revitalize communities.