Innovations in Community Based Crime Reduction

CBCR Site Feature: Berea, KY

Berea, Kentucky
Target Neighborhood: Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone


Kentucky’s Rural Version of Community-based Public Safety

When Berea Kentucky became a Innovations in Community Based Crime Reduction (CBCR) site in 2015, they knew it was a good match. Youth crime was rising in their target area, and drug abuse—particularly pharmaceutical opioids—had become a big and growing concern. The area’s poverty rate is almost double the national average and per capita income is under $20,000.

The team also knew, however, that they couldn’t just model their work on what their urban counterparts had done. The CBCR initiative is named after Berea College, which houses Partners for Education, the program’s fiscal agent and lead agency, but it covers a huge swath of rural Appalachian Kentucky. The target area now includes three counties and 1,300 square miles, with 77,053 residents but no town with a population of more than 10,000. Many kids ride a school bus for an hour each way on country roads to get to school, and the area’s law enforcement includes more than a dozen police departments—some with as few as three officers.

Without a precedent for how to make the CBCR initiative work in such a rural setting, the Berea team and the research partner, the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, used their local knowledge and experience to craft a planning process based on what they’ve come to call three pillars. Today, with the plan complete and the partners ready to start implementation in earnest, their approach holds ideas and lessons that are applicable to any CBCR initiative, rural or urban.

The first pillar is collective impact. The Berea CBCR initiative overlaps the counties in the federal Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone, awarded in 2014, and the planning and structures from that initiative were invaluable resources. Partners for Education at Berea College serves as the leader of the education taskforce and the county judge executives—the head of the county executive branch—introduced the CBCR initiative to the local agencies and organizations.

“Cultural research gave us a youth voice and we heard about things that we didn’t realize were going on from just looking at the data.”
— Jenna Meglen, BCJI Project Director

“The CBCR program has brought police departments to the table with teachers and business owners as well as residents,” says Sherry Scott, the Partners for Education director of programs. “They’re all very excited about opportunities to have a more active role with youth.”

The project also brought in new partners. More than a dozen local churches in the three counties, for example, are working together for the first time around positive youth development, using their relationships to families living in remote locations to connect with at-risk kids. For CBCR implementation, they’re talking about deeper collaborations as well, sharing responsibilities like transportation for afterschool activities.

Crime data is relatively hard to come by in the Berea CBCR target area. The smallest measured geographic area is by ZIP code—which can cover more than a hundred square miles in Appalachian Kentucky—and because police response to a remote home in the hills can take more than 45 minutes, many crimes simply go unreported.

To fill the information gap, the CBCR team used its second pillar, cultural research. During the planning process, experienced interviewers spoke one-on-one with service providers and residents, primarily youth, about where trouble could usually be found, the typical types of risky behavior, and what kind of programs would be effective to make a difference.

“Appalachian culture is very much one of storytelling,” explains Jenna Meglen, the CBCR project director. “This gave us a youth voice and we heard about things that we didn’t realize were going on from just looking at the data.” The interviews were so rich and interesting that the recordings have been archived in the Berea College library.

The third pillar was adding “bright spots” to the standard CBCR focus on crime hot spots. Because of difficulties in bringing increased law enforcement resources to bear in the isolated places where youth were getting in trouble—spots like a former strip mine miles from any town—the team decided to make these hot spots less appealing by emphasizing the pull of positive youth programs. In Harlan County, the Boys and Girls Club is now planning on increasing their programming, for instance, and a faith-based organization in Clay County is opening a youth camp, Impact Outdoors, on a 36-acre site in the mountains.

One of the hallmarks of these programs has been the involvement of youth themselves in the planning and implementation of programs like Impact Outdoors and an arts showcase in Bell County. “At the start, we didn’t realize community redevelopment would be such a big priority to our stakeholders, and we didn’t expect such a marriage of youth development and community revitalization,” Scott says. “But it’s really enriched the programs.”


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