When the Douglas Park playground on Georgetown Street in Lexington, Kentucky, was perceived as “too dangerous to play in” and senior citizen homeowners were afraid to sit on their porches or do yard work, for fear of stray bullets, everyone knew something had to be done. Police enforcement was the logical answer to quell the violence and criminal activity.
The Georgetown Corridor—like many urban centers with low–income and single–family homes—had seen issues in the past that were resolved through police enforcement and community action. But like the seasons, the problems always seemed to return. However, the issues in the summer of 2013 were more violent and frequent than anyone expected. The situation left elected officials, church leaders, and citizen's heads shaking and had them asking, “How do we transform this neighborhood?” In June 2013 the Lexington Division of Police (LDP), under the leadership of Chief Ronnie Bastin, stepped forward with an answer. True transformation would have to come from the inside out.
“Community Partnerships” is a Core Value of the LDP, but in summer 2013 this platform became a springboard for action. LDP officers had an ongoing relationship with residents and neighborhood leaders that was yielding great dividends; so much so that Chief Bastin saw an opportunity to expand the gains these relationships were providing. He appointed an “action team” to strengthen relationships and increase their efforts in getting to the root of the neighborhood's problems. The team is led by a sergeant who is assigned as the “neighborhood liaison.”
The sergeant grew up in the Georgetown Neighborhood, so when he drives down the street he knows nearly everyone by name and can share a memory about that person from school, church, or police work. He and his team worked diligently to gather intelligence, address issues, become familiar with neighbors, and solve problems. Their efforts were complemented by a series of high visibility patrols, undercover operations, and targeted investigations. The police action quickly paid off, leading to arrests, narcotic seizures, and an overall reduction of crime—but that was only one piece of the puzzle.
LDP officers had been in contact with church leaders and citizens who had big ideas for grassroots efforts to restore the neighborhood. Talk of prayer marches, “stop the violence” rallies, and other efforts were filling the air—but from different directions. The sergeant saw this as an opportunity to unite all the efforts under one rallying cry—”WE CARE: Our Community, Our Future.”
The “WE CARE” Movement
The slogan, “WE CARE: Our Community, Our Future,” became a mantra, which morphed into a movement—complete with yard signs and t–shirts—with the big ideas of the community leaders coming to fruition under the “WE CARE” banner.
“Peace Walks” were the most noticeable grassroots effort fostered by the “WE CARE” movement. Dozens of churches, community centers, neighborhood associations, the city council, the mayor, and police participated in these events. For seven consecutive weeks the diverse group walked up and down the Georgetown Corridor. At the end of the walk a prayer was led by one of the faith–based leaders. Police and partners provided traffic control, secured donations for water, and provided transportation for those unable to complete the effort but who wanted to participate in the closing prayer. On the seventh and final walk, the “WE CARE” t–shirts were unveiled. Hundreds of people proudly displayed the shirts, while marching along the route lined with “WE CARE” signs. The media headlines were awash with photos and the newly–minted mantra.
Headlines and history were once again made with “WE CARE: Love Your Neighborhood Day.” Police and other law enforcement partners traded in their duty gear for shovels, brooms, and hedge trimmers—to literally clean up the streets in the Georgetown Corridor. For an entire shift, workers and volunteers: fixed bullet riddled siding, repaired fences, raked leaves, trimmed hedges, picked up trash, and completed odd jobs alongside residents to revitalize the dilapidated neighborhood. The groundbreaking partnership initiative involved nearly everyone: Police, Habitat For Humanity, Fire, Corrections, Housing and Urban Development, Partners for Youth, Streets and Roads, Code Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, the Division of Planning, homeowners, and landlords.
The Georgetown Corridor youth also got into transformation mode by hosting the “WE CARE: Non Violence/Take Action Day.” Elementary and middle school students rallied in Douglas Park, on Georgetown Street, to protest violence in all its forms. The children wrote essays, gave speeches, performed songs, and painted pictures all taking a stand against gun violence, bullying, and recent neighborhood unrest. The rally culminated with the sound of small feet pounding the pavement in a “Take Action” march from the park to their nearby schools. This event—supported by the school system, police, fire department, and lunch sponsor Chick–fil–A—allowed the children to take ownership of their actions in transforming the neighborhood.
The continuing “WE CARE: Our Community, Our Future” movement has been a tremendous success. The organized effort has enabled community members to better express their support for police actions, and provided a platform on which residents can build their own initiatives in the future.
Transformation in Progress
The Douglas Park playground is again a fun and safe place, neighbors are able to greet each other from their front porches, and the street corners are once again safe to stand on in the Georgetown Neighborhood. To make sure things stay that way the partnerships between police and community are continuing. Overall cooperation between residents and the police is significantly better. The lines of communication, established during the initial effort, remain open, allowing vital information to flow to officers. Increased attendance at neighborhood association meetings is still being reported. Finally, continued “WE CARE” initiatives are in the works. LDP leadership understands that transformation is not a one time effort, but a constant pursuit of improvement.
“WE CARE” as a Model
The “WE CARE” movement worked in the Georgetown Corridor and we believe it can work in others. Police enforcement, grassroots action, and public/private participation is a great combination for affecting real change. This initiative will serve as a model for future action, and proves the validity of the division's “Community Partnerships” Core Value. No one entity can solve every problem on its own, but with a unified mission, a rallying cry, and appropriate partner support you can truly transform a neighborhood.
Lexington Division of Police
Lexington Division of Police