Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Escaping L.A.'s violence - a haven within

An L.A. Times article tells a story we should heed, a gem at the end of a neighborhood safety rainbow. The gem is Vermont Knolls, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. The L.A. Times calls VK a "place where people know each other, have an emotional and financial investment and don't take kindly to anything that might disturb the peace."

In any traditional suburb we might label that NIBMYism. Here - for very different reasons – something else is going on.

In the past 3 years the L.A. Times reports there were 2,603 murders in Los Angeles. In the vortex of the gangs, drugs and shooting storm lies Vermont Knolls where the Times says there hasn't been a single murder in the core area. In fact, the first murder in 3 years happened only 5 days ago.

Even in neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Vermont Knolls there are of lots of murders. Those nearby places suffered 28 homicides in the same period. No doubt crime still happens in VK, but why so few murders?

The L.A. Times story suggests a few answers.

* Though 15 gangs vie for control of turf around VK, police successfully targeted a gang who resided there.
* Surrounding areas are dominated by high turnover, section 8 subsidy housing, boarded up homes, foreclosures, liquor stores, and urban blight.
* In VK investors are working at commercial rehabilitation. It also has well-maintained lawns and not many front yard fences.
*Courts have passed gang injunctions.
*Unlike nearby areas, VK has formed an influential advocacy group, the Community Coalition, to organize themselves.
* VK uses extensive outreach programs including church sponsored activities.
* VK has older and more long-term residents, more owner-occupied single homes, and folks with roots.

Notice police and courts play only a limited role, such as selected gang enforcement and a community police station.

Notice also the broader agenda carried on by investors, a community-group, a church, and neighbors themselves.

Ben Adler says it best in his Next American City article "Crime's Bottom Line".

...while crime has continued dropping in New York, it has begun to level off in many cities, including D.C., that have employed the same police tactics [Broken Windows]. In D.C. murders rose slightly in 2007 and 2008, and crime in general remains persistent...while infinitely better than when the city had 482 murders (compared to 186 in 2008), is still surprisingly high for a city that has experienced a recent boom in residential demand and commercial activity.

D.C.’s experience demonstrates the limits of police-based approaches to crime prevention…Police tactics may get the crime rate down from epidemic proportions, but they won’t fix the root problems.

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