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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Nicholtown, a suburb of Greenville, South Carolina was described in Jacqueline Woodson’s 2014 National Book Award-winning memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming” as a place with a strong sense of community where people were safe and genuinely cared about each other.
But in the winter of 2018–19, there were several gun violence incidents in one small part of this vibrant, historic town, undermining that feeling
According to Timothy Harrison, Intelligence Officer of the Greenville (South Carolina) Police Department (GPD), while this problem was present in other areas of the city, it was especially bad in Nicholtown.
“We knew that there were a small number of people involved,” he said, “but there were gaps in what we knew. So, after contacting sheriffs’ offices and other agencies upstate, we realized it was gang related and spreading to other jurisdictions.”
“We hadn’t seen the whole picture before because of a lack of communication. So our officers began meeting weekly with the sheriff’s office to share information and better understand what was happening.
“As a result, we identified a gang which was driving almost all of the violent crime and went after them in a more coordinated and strategic way.”
Harrison and GPD Captain Mike Year realized that this kind of collaboration fit the Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) model and had heard good things about it. So, to strengthen, expand, and sustain these efforts, the department implemented the PSN program in October 2021.
A federally funded nationwide initiative, PSN brings law enforcement agencies together with community leaders and service providers to address crime problems through programs customized to the community’s needs.
“We had tried something like PSN before,” said Chief J.H. Thompson, “but our efforts fell flat because we didn’t have the right partners. This time, we focused on the law enforcement side before reaching out to the community.
“We talked to prosecutors, probation and parole, as well as local, state and federal agencies. These included the FBI’s gang task force, as well as agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“And we learned something valuable from everybody our officers worked with. These partnerships made us faster and smarter in the way we do things. And our partners learned from us too.”
To kick off Project Safe Neighborhoods, the GPD and the Nicholtown Neighborhood Association partnered with the City of Greenville in August 2022 to hold a two-day event.
Facilitated by representatives from The National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) research center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a nonprofit organization which provides violence reduction strategies, training, and technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and communities across the country, the event attracted approximately 100 participants.
Among them were service providers in mental health, housing, education, employment readiness, and other specialties which can help individuals turn away from a lifestyle that leads to crime and provide support to their families, as well.
Also present were a large number of area residents, as well as members of neighborhood associations from other communities
According to Chief Thompson, multiple adult gangs have been dismantled, or at least disrupted, since the PSN program began. But because the adult groups can’t operate as effectively now, juvenile gangs have become the biggest problem. However, he is optimistic that this same approach can help with them, too.
“PSN might even work better with juveniles. So we’re reaching out to young people who are already on our radar, as well as those who haven’t committed to the gang lifestyle yet. We will rely more on the service side and also enlist the help of parents to hold their children accountable.
“We’re also doing our own programs, like the Officer Allen Jacobs Summer Camp. It gives kids a positive recreational and educational experience during their summer break and also provides our School Resource Officers (SRO) and Neighborhood Engagement Team officers an opportunity to mentor and positively interact
Asked how the PSN program could be adapted to agencies of smaller size, Harrison said, “We have about 200 officers. But this definitely can be done well with any size department. It doesn’t require a lot of financial or staff resources.
“PSN provided the infrastructure and the funding, which came through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), and we were supported by NNSC, who provided training and technical assistance.”
In explaining how PSN typically works, Meaghan McDonald, Director of Programs for NNSC, said that in this case, her team began working with the GPD before expanding the program to community-based organizations.
The NNSC team works with law enforcement and the community to analyze the problem, develop targeted and prioritized enforcement strategies to address it, choose key partners, and clearly identify their goals.
To inform decision-making on the most effective violence reduction strategies, the team uses research and data analysis, as well as lessons learned from other violent crime reduction initiatives.
Following this, they develop prevention strategies to complement enforcement and a system for maintaining accountability (i.e.: what data will be used to monitor progress and ensure strategies remain targeted).
Though law enforcement is critical to the implementation of PSN, the program is like a three-legged stool, which requires support from the community and social services, as well.
Said Thompson, “Initially, we were the biggest piece of the program, but the end goal is to make it community-driven and service provider–reliant. It requires a network of health, housing and other local resources, which were available here. When everything is stood up, law enforcement should just be the back stop.”
Accordingly, the department’s leaders began meeting regularly with the leaders of the neighborhood associations.
Commenting on this, McDonald said, “One of the problems we see across the board is that community partners often say their voice is not heard, and that policies are imposed without their input. Because PSN is co-directed by the community and law enforcement, this will not be the
“Credit for the success of this program goes not only to GDP, but to Nicholtown, too—its active neighborhood association, its people, and the availability of resources and services which were already in place,” she added.
“One of the things we came away with was that this community was very well prepared to implement the PSN program and make it a success.
“Though the level of violence was high, it’s an incredibly rich community in terms of physical and personal assets—people and organizations. There is so much local pride and dedication.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
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