Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Safe Alex - 21st Century Lighthouse

Prevention will not take root without a holistic approach.
A recent newspaper article suggests Safe Alex is impacting crime

Jacques Roy is the Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana. In 2010-2011, Mayor Roy and staffers Lamar White and Daniel Smith began working with SafeGrowth. Following the staffers attendance at a SafeGrowth workshop they brought concepts back to Alexandria. Later in the year I presented SafeGrowth at a development summit and was asked to tailor a program with the Alexandria administration. This became the Safe Alex initiative. In this guest blog Mayor Roy offers thoughts about where SafeAlex is today.

Neighborhoods are the lynchpin for sustainable success in preventing crime and tackling blight. A few years ago, a bold editorial in a local paper declared that our SafeAlex program would not take root unless it was police led and police dominated.

While I do not want to simplify this complex issue to an absurdity or add meaningless clich├ęs, holistic approaches that make communities take responsibility, I suspect, will beat out the belief that some single government organization or actor can provide all the answers.

The idea that someone else must resolve “my problem” is dangerous on many levels. It is counter to everything we teach kids about self-reliance and how to sustain a successful marriage, job, family, and life. Indeed, society’s overweening belief in “Minority Report,” “Robocop,” and “Judge Dredd,” as what we seek from governments is misplaced. I am not even sure it should be desired.
Downtown Alexandria, LA 

Reactive enforcement, saturation, and plain old boots-on-the-ground — to be sure — have a place. Crime is multi-faceted and its reduction, roots, sentinel causes, and its responses seem to work one day and then become inexplicably unresponsive the next. Holistic, neighborhood-based programs, supported by police and city departments, are the way forward. This is the essence of SafeAlex, which not only has taken root, but is showing reduction in several benchmark categories. We are now expanding the program.

The newspaper editorial said: “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.”

Yes, you do. But, when you want to teach fire prevention, you use neighborhood meeting halls and senior organizations to explain the dangers of unmonitored space heaters in older homes. You educate citizens about checking on their elderly family members in cold winter months. You create a strong neighborhood because the fireman cannot be at every house, every minute.

Work still to be done in city neighborhoods
I am a pragmatist; I am suspicious of programming unless you can reproduce results and attach metrics that are reliable. We are doing this right now. As with many of our programs, this was born of necessity, the mother of invention. During the summer of 2009, the city saw six shootings on a particular street (a lot for my city).


The program started with two very bright assistants, Lamar White Jr. and Daniel Smith, and me wanting to address development and knowing we had to address obstacles to development in these areas. That “hot summer” just gnawed at the staff. I met with those two assistants often to discuss new policy formulation, and then we rolled into a planning and develop summit, SPARC, in December of 2010. By that time, we were working with CPTED and SafeGrowth concepts.

Our policy statement remains the position of the Administration: confronting and reducing crime requires difficult decisions, bold action, and challenging many of our preconceived notions and practices. It requires us to confront some hard truths, not only about the efficacy of law enforcement practices, but also about the responsibilities of parents; the role of teachers, schools, churches, and the courts; and the effectiveness of neighborhood watch groups and other community organizations.

We invite other communities to have a look at what we’ve done. We believe this could be tweaked and used in other communities and we believe your experiences will help all of us promote evidence-based programming in our cities.  We can be a lighthouse for 21st Century American cities.

Program steps on the Safe Alex website

7 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading these success stories, and they help to serve as a reminder to me that the police alone are not the answer for long-term change.

New ideas really do have to be sold, and there are many proven ways to accomplish this. The point is that we out in the field need a little help from Madison Avenue.

Tim H

Gregory Saville said...

Thanks Tim, I couldn't agree more.

As Mayor Roy mentioned, that city had a hot summer of crime in 2009 and news seems to show real benefits from a coherent response.

What about other places that still struggle? Excellent question.

Tim Hegarty said...

Please bear with the necessary exposition.

I'm working on an Executive MBA, so I'm in a period of constantly thinking about applying business concepts to policing. I came across a PERF article by Moore and Braga entitled "The 'Bottom Line' of Policing: What Citizens Should Value (and Measure!) in Police Performance." The authors put forth seven dimensions of police performance, and one of them is ensuring civility in public spaces, or ordered liberty. It occured to me that engaging in SafeGrowth might be one measure of this dimension. What do you think?

Gregory Saville said...

"Civility in public spaces". Love the academics for vagueness :-)

You are spot on with this idea. The SafeGrowth program teaches local groups how to diagnose their own problems and measure whether they are successful when they launch programs. The police role is critical and the Chief's ability to resource, support, and promote that within his/her agency is critical to the neighborhood success in cutting crime.

From my perspective evaluating the Chief's performance in this way is an excellent metric. Why not use feedback (interviews, surveys, etc) from the various SafeGrowth leadership team members themselves as a way to evaluate that? Since the SafeGrowth membership is diverse and non-political this may turn out to be the most accurate way to determine the Chief's leadership influence within his/her organization, and without!

Great idea. Why don't you see if you can develop a measurement instrument (maybe one administered before-and-after the SafeGrowth programming...which is about 4 months apart)?

Tim Hegarty said...

I'm putting together a business plan that "re-engineers" my agency, and I'm strongly considering incorporating Moore and Brags's work. Regardless, part of the plan will include community engagement, and I can't think of a better format for engagement than SafeGrowth. How detailed it gets remains to be seen, but I'll keep the survey in mind.

Gregory Saville said...

Couldn't agree more, Tim. Obviously I agree that SafeGrowth works for the community engagement piece. The community engagement is treated as an afterthought in most prevention work - we'll just organize a community meeting, barbeque, blockwatch, etc. They rarely have due dates longer than the meeting. We can do much better. That's why I created SafeGrowth.

I also think there may be a permanent role for a hybrid public/private public safety model, with the police workload eased by properly vetted and trained private security, like the Third Way CPI model we've been discussing in the Civic Protection Institute linkedin discussion on Increased Police Numbers Equals Less.

Exciting times in public safety.

gwen said...