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Mobilizing Residents Makes a Neighborhood Safer

He is only four months into his job and Bryce Bradford has already worked with neighborhood residents to hold a nuisance business accountable, shut down a meth lab and tackle prostitution. Bradford is Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council’s (INC) Crime and Safety Specialist and says he’s just getting started.

Getting neighbors to trust each other is the crucial first step in helping to make neighborhoods safer. “People don’t trust people in this neighborhood,” says Bradford. “When I first started knocking on doors, people wouldn’t open up. They were like ‘who’s this young black man at my house?’ Just because I looked like them didn’t mean they automatically trusted me. I had to work at it and prove myself.”

LISC has made a grant to INC so that they can afford a safety advocate like Bradford. It is sourced from the national HUD Section 4 program, which enhances the capacity of community development organizations to carry out activities that benefit low-income neighborhoods. “A neighborhood is limited in its growth potential if it faces unusually high rates of crime,” says LISC Executive Director Stephen Samuels.  “Along with poor education, crime is one of the primary factors preventing prospective residents from choosing inner city neighborhoods.” 

In one case, Bradford worked with neighbors to address murder, prostitution and drug dealing around a business on 35th Prospect.

“There were so many issues with the neighborhood associations – probably stuff from years ago. But we were able to realize the gas station was a problem and we needed to work together to make a change,” he says.

Five neighborhood groups signed a letter to the owner sharing safety concerns surrounding the business. When the owner didn’t respond to the letter, Bradford held a resident training session with the Kansas City, MO Police Department. The training taught residents about the power of consistently reporting incidents.

“When a certain number of calls are made reporting nuisance issues, a business is labeled a chronic nuisance and it becomes a police matter,” Bradford shares.

Neighbors began making calls in June and the business was making changes a month later after being labeled a chronic nuisance. Some of the improvements include improved lighting, adding disabled parking and repairing a fence. Police even set up a raid and arrested drug users and prostitutes surrounding the business.

On the heels of this victory, neighborhood leaders are now poised to take on another problem plaguing their community.

Residents have complained for years about sex workers in their community. But a presentation from University of Missouri-Kansas City Criminal Justice Instructor Alison Phillips prompted neighbors to come together to make changes.

The residents are now working to bring awareness about the issue and encourage their neighbors to get involved. They recently had signs printed up encouraging people to call a police number to report suspected prostitution. The goal is to have the same impact as they had when they reported nuisance issues with the gas station.

“Everything I want to accomplish is going to take me a long time to do because it’s systemic,” Bradford realizes. “One of my goals is to increase interaction with younger residents in Ivanhoe. Most people who come to the neighborhood meetings are senior citizens and that’s not sustainable. That’s why I’m trying to reach out to young people.”