The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 2 | Issue 2 | February 2009

Preview of a Forthcoming COPS Book: Building Our
Way Out of Crime: The Promise of Police-Community Developer Partnerships

The old saying goes, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” But what if the right tool for the job is a hammer, and the only tools you have are a badge and a gun?

Police departments around the nation have been discovering they can “build” their way out of crime problems that they have been unable to arrest their way out of. And they have been doing it by working with nonprofit community developers—local builders and organizations whose goal is to transform their own blighted neighborhoods into more livable, healthy communities.

Addressing the Crime-Blight and Safety-Revitalization Cycles. Police leader Bill Bratton and community development leader Paul Grogan argue in their foreword to our forthcoming book, Building Our Way Out of Crime that crime is one of the greatest obstacles to community development and that community deterioration is one of the greatest generators of crime. They also say: “[O]ur decades of work in two separate fields—urban policing and grassroots community economic development—tell us … that cops and community developers can contribute mightily to halting and reversing the spiral of ‘disorder and decline’ … in poor neighborhoods throughout America.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, revitalization has become easier in many places where crime has substantially declined, and where revitalization has flourished, crime has declined. Yet Bratton and Grogan observe: “[I]n most urban centers in the United States, police and grass-roots developers have been doing their good work in isolation from one another.” Police and developers can get far more done working together than either could accomplish alone. So the question is not whether police and developers welcome each others’ accomplishments when those accomplishments happen to coincide. The question is whether they—and mayors and other public policymakers—want to reap the fullest benefits of high-impact public safety-community development partnerships by proactively organizing and supporting them.

Evidence from Three Cities. The answer becomes resoundingly clear in this book’s case studies of police-community developer partnerships in three cities—Charlotte, North Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Minneapolis, Minnesota: be proactive in launching and strategic and business-like in running these mega problem-solving partnerships. That prescription comes from police leaders Darrel Stephens, Dean Esserman, Tim Dolan, and Sharon Lubinski and from expert community developers Patricia Garrett, Frank Shea, Barbara Fields, and Theresa Carr. As Bratton and Grogan observe, the cases—each running about 100 pages—show that “so much can be accomplished to stabilize low-income communities when police (and prosecutors and other public safety practitioners) and locally credible developers work together in the same places at the same time….” Figure 1 shows the remarkable public safety outcomes achieved in the three case study sites, and the photo montages illustrate the simultaneous housing and commercial revitalization results.

Figure 1

Graph of Declining Crimes
Large, multiyear improvements in public safety indicators followed community developer-police joint action to replace crime-generating commercial and residential properties with high-quality affordable housing and safety- and commerce-generating businesses. In Charlotte, North Carolina’s Druid Hills neighborhood, crime and calls for service (CFS) fell between 1998 and 2006 in three focus areas (the “Park,” “Kohler Avenue,” and “Olando Street” areas) considerably outpacing a comparison neighborhood and Mecklenburg County overall. In Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, between 2002 and 2007 reported crime, calls for service, and arrests related to a previously out-of-control street drug market declined in a 16 square-block area (with annual calls to police about narcotics problems in this zone dropping from 291 to 5). Progress in this focus zone substantially exceeded that in the entire Minneapolis police precinct serving Phillips. In Providence, Rhode Island’s Olneyville neighborhood, in two focus areas (the “hotspots” and “revitalization” areas) double-digit reductions occurred in levels of crime and calls for service between 2002 and 2007— as in the other study sites, far surpassing the improvements in public safety indicators for the police district and neighborhood overall.

In all three of these trailblazing cities, the strategy is essentially the same: bad places—ones that generated or enabled considerable crime and blight—were physically converted into neighborhood assets, places that bring highly desired commerce and/or quality, affordable housing to neighborhoods. Those new assets, in turn, help to reduce crime and disorder, thereby fostering sustainable revitalization. Not only is the cycle of crime and blight interrupted, a new powerful cycle of safety and livability is set in motion.

Multiple Benefits of Proactive Police-Community Developer Partnerships. The “wins” come on many fronts, as Bratton and Grogan enumerate: “[T]hese collaborations … reduce crime; replace problem properties with quality, affordable housing; attract viable businesses in previously blighted commercial corridors; make more strategic and efficient use of public and private-sector resources; and build public confidence in and cooperation with local government and private organizations.” Given this remarkable track record, they recommend that “police and development organizations, propelled by results-driven, fiscally responsible leaders, … devise and adhere to new standard operating procedures that launch and support police-developer activities that are conducted—and analyzed—in an accountable, business-like way.”

Turning around a Crime-plagued Neighborhood through Commercial Corridor Redevelopment, Supported by Police

Crime plagued neighborhood

Redevolpment of Neighborhood
In Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, one convenience store/gas station at the busy intersection of East Franklin Avenue and 11th Avenue South (top photo) plagued the community, generating 517 calls for police service during 1999 alone, including drug dealing, prostitution, theft, and violence. A powerful partnership between Great Neighborhoods! Development Corporation (GNDC) and the Minneapolis Police Department completely transformed the intersection and seven entire city blocks on both sides of the intersection. Replacing the convenience store crime hotspot is one of the most popular and successful wholesale and retail bakeries in the Twin Cities—the Franklin Street Bakery. Erecting the bakery literally “built away” the crime hot spot and provided an economic engine to this low-income community, bringing legitimate family activity, safety-generating “busy streets,” wholesome food, commerce, and dozens of new jobs for neighborhood residents. CPTED design features include large windows, enabling bakery workers to keep watchful eyes on the streets. Roger Beck Florist, another GNDC-developed business at this same intersection, also helped cut crime and revitalize the neighborhood when it replaced a troublesome bar and unsuccessful credit union. (Photos: top, GNDC, 2002; bottom, Bill Geller, 2008)

The new operating procedures and business practices that seem to work well in these long-term collaborations are described and prescribed in several chapters in this forthcoming volume. As the case studies show, one size does not fit all police departments. The police played a variety of roles in these neighborhood transformations, some labor intensive, some not. But in all cases, the police were willing and able to come to and stay at the table because they took the time to understand what high-capacity community developers can do and how that work can facilitate the success of police missions. And they devoted serious effort to form trusting, collaborative relationships with the developers.

For the police, finding the right community developer as an active problem-solving partner can be a complex, crucial step in the process. By asking detailed questions and prudently deploying resources, police can identify and productively engage with community developers who are ready, willing, and able to physically transform properties that generate pernicious and persistent crime problems.

These Partnerships Can Solve Persistent Problems at Lower Cost. Even though there are thousands of community development corporations (CDCs) nationwide, robust developer-police partnerships of the sort documented in this book are not yet the modus operandi in most cities. But if police are willing to coordinate their crime-control efforts in a synergistic way with a talented CDC’s development agenda, working relationships can be forged that substantially—and cost-effectively—advance the core goals of both police and developers. When police and developers work together well by following a rational and proven process, their strategies can become mutually reinforcing, with declining crime spurring development and development driving down crime.

The attraction of these effects and efficiencies to savvy police and developers is powerful and straightforward. As a lieutenant in Providence put it simply: “Community developers make my job easier.”

From Brownfield and Crime Hotspot to Sprouting Community

Sprouting Community
In Providence, an environmentally and criminally hazardous site gave way to Riverside Park, a bike path, and new affordable homes whose residents enjoy the park and help keep watch to ensure it remains safe and attractive. The homes, shown during construction and completed in 2007, were developed by Olneyville Housing Corporation (OHC) in active collaboration with the Providence Police Department. (Photos: before, OHC; after, Bill Geller)

Sprouting Community

Sprouting Community

Greater evaluative rigor will be a key step in the widespread propagation of the collaborative strategy we advocate because additional learning is needed in several arenas, including the nuts and bolts of teamwork required to turn around distressed neighborhoods. Nevertheless, we feel a cautious confidence, based on our 15 years of work with such partnerships and the evidence emanating from the case studies, in recommending continued and expanded investments of time, talent, and financing in community development-public safety collaborations. Such investments are vital in the challenging economic climate facing the nation, as Bratton and Grogan conclude:

“[T]hese collaborations are necessary not only because they are effective, but also because shrinking public resources require them. We can think of no better investment at the neighborhood level than a well-conceived, ongoing alliance between dedicated cops and high-capacity grassroots community developers.”

They commend this strategy to public officials at all levels of government:

“As the case studies make clear, very impressive turnarounds take several years—but they can be accomplished within four-year election cycles…. [N]ewly elected public officials—from mayors to the President—and their experts on public safety and neighborhood development can hit the ground running and take practical steps that support robust public-private collaborations. *** The innovative linkage of hard-working, results-oriented police and community developers—organizing them to pull in the same direction at the same time—produces the multiplier effect that Geller and Belsky so appropriately highlight…. With a national and city-by-city commitment to replicate and adapt the kind of collaborations described here, we believe long suffering urban neighborhoods—which influence their city’s overall well-being in many ways—will be the beneficiaries for years to come. *** [With this book, the COPS Office] offers an effective and practical road map we can follow to knock crime down and keep it down in low-income neighborhoods.”

Authors: Bill Geller and Lisa Belsky co-founded 15 years ago—and continue to work actively in many cities with—the Community Safety Initiative of the nation’s largest community development umbrella organization, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

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