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Building Crime Reduction Programs That Stand the Test of Time

In communities that have struggled with high crime for many years, local leaders know that there is no “silver bullet” solution to their challenges. Participants in the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) program, administered by the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), come to the program for answers about what will work to reduce crime and spur revitalization in their neighborhoods. In many cases they’ve been facing the same issues for years with limited success, and they’re looking for new ways to address old problems.

Lasting solutions require a complex mix of partners, programs and resources – and a hefty dose of leadership to keep things moving in the right direction. Recently, new BCJI grantees gathered in Washington, DC, to discuss ways to identify those lasting solutions and the community organizing, data analysis and partnership-building that they might require.

The BCJI Model
Now in 60 neighborhoods across the country, BCJI sites have convened diverse partners including residents, researchers and local law enforcement to analyze crime drivers and pursue strategies that reduce crime, improve safety and build trust in the long term. The core elements of the BCJI model set it apart from more traditional crime reduction strategies that focus on law enforcement alone. LISC works closely with BJA to support BCJI sites and hone the national program model.

Data & Research: BCJI targets crime “hot spots” – typically geographically focused locations (e.g., a specific intersection) in communities that have struggled with disproportionately higher levels of crime compared to other neighboring communities for years. Researchers are engaged in the day-to-day work, helping partners examine and analyze the major drivers of crime, assess possible solutions and monitor progress. 
Community Engagement: BCJI prioritizes the resident voice in identifying problems, selecting strategies and creating safe environments.
Revitalization: BCJI tackles problem properties, unemployment, transit barriers and service gaps related to crime.  
Partnerships: BCJI taps the resources of public, non-profit and community leaders to bring new approaches to bear on longstanding crime challenges.

The Washington, DC gathering created an opportunity for BCJI site leaders to learn from experts and from one another. BCJI sites are either embarking on an intensive period of planning or implementing place-based crime prevention and revitalization initiatives in their communities. While the newly selected sites are focused on learning the model itself, BCJI grantees of longer standing find themselves facing a challenge common to most community development efforts: how to sustain the gains they have made over time. During the meeting, a number of sites from earlier BCJI cohorts presented on the processes they took to carry out and sustain BCJI efforts, stressing that sustainability can and should be built into a site’s BCJI plan in myriad ways.

In discussing sustainability, speakers highlighted several recurring themes—cross-sector partnerships, community engagement, and the use of media in advocacy and sustainability efforts.

Cross-Sector Partnerships
Partnerships – between community leaders, residents, law enforcement and other stakeholders – are at the heart of the BCJI model, and the success of any BCJI site is dependent on the strength and longevity of those partnerships. Several of the grantees from earlier BCJI cohorts had advice about how to keep partners engaged and effective for the long term.

The foundation of successful collaboration begins even before the formal relationships do, with the selection of the partners. Donna Griffin of Community Capacity Builders in Philadelphia advised fellow grantees that evaluating partners’ goals and assessing whether they share your vision is key. In Philadelphia, a consortium of partners pursuing similar priorities came together to create a joint community transformation plan, the safety portion of which was funded by BCJI starting in 2012. Their partnership continues to meet monthly.

In Austin, the BCJI site took advantage of actors already at hand. Austin Police Commander Donald Baker explained that the strategy was to “convene the stakeholders that were already engaged in [community safety] work, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.”

And the work of partnership doesn’t stop with the recruitment of like-minded organizations or individuals, Griffin said, but requires continued relationship management. Partners need to understand how they specifically add value to the project if they’re going to stay engaged. “Otherwise, they’ll drift away.”

Even once the right partners have been identified, creating and sustaining a productive working relationship can be a challenge when there are multiple players involved. Some partnerships have found it valuable to engage outside facilitators or mediators to help partners come together as a team and devise a common vision and set of goals. Commander Baker noted, “It’s also important to be transparent and reassure partners that you’re not trying to take credit or take resources away from them.”

Successful collaboration requires clarity about how the partnership is structured [see a sample structure from Seattle here] and what, if any, hierarchy is involved. A formal agreement or Memorandum of Understanding [click here for samples] between all the partners can help clear away confusion and minimize difficulties by outlining the specific roles, responsibilities and resources of each partner. Regularly scheduled meetings to check in on progress allow partners to maintain momentum and hold one another accountable.

Community Engagement
Collective efficacy and social cohesion are core goals for many BCJI sites. Engaging the local community in the safety effort is key, because the local people will remain in the community even after the funding and initiatives go away. Without a shared sense of responsibility and buy-in among residents, the effort to combat crime in the target area is less likely to be successful. Speaking on equity and inclusion, Amoretta Morris of the Annie E. Casey Foundation said, “The people most impacted have to be at the table working on this work to inform strategies. It’s also important for initiatives to be done with communities and not tocommunities.” For more on how community engagement connects to safety in BCJI, click here.

Communication and consistency are also important factors for the sustainability of these efforts. Donna Griffin of Philadelphia told meeting participants, “communication style is key and relationship building takes time.” Griffin cautioned, “don’t assume residents know everything. Confirm that they understand the process [and] next steps.” The BCJI partners in Philadelphia made information sharing the first step to mobilizing community residents and they have seen a payoff with increased civic engagement. The site leaders continue to convene meetings and communicate regularly with residents as a means to keep them engaged.

Use of Media in advocacy and sustainability efforts
Perceptions of crime can be almost as damaging and isolating for a neighborhood as actual crime. Using the media to help get the word out about changes in the community can build confidence and draw additional investment to sustain the crime reduction and revitalization efforts.

Sandra Espadas of the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) in San Bernardino, Calif. stressed the use of media to get positive stories out about places where the news is usually negative. As a result of positive news about the BCJI partnership in San Bernardino, the partners found themselves presented with additional opportunities, including housing development and new partnerships that enhance the BCJI work. [Read the IPS Q&A on Linking Media, Advocacy and Sustainability.]

One way to attract positive media coverage was to complete “early action” projects, such as murals or community clean-ups, “to show the community you mean business.” These projects can be completed with little funding, but create a visible impact in the neighborhood. Having a positive story to tell allowed the partners to frame the message about their neighborhood for the media.

More Sustainability Tips
Be ready to adapt: Barb Biondo of the Seattle Neighborhood Group explained, “Throughout the planning process, you have to remain adaptable because the plans will change from planning to implementation.” Biondo said adjusting the timeline may be inevitable, and may prove vital to the success of your efforts. [See Seattle’s Timeline]

Sustainability is a process: Sustainability is not a single strategy. Rather, it’s a process that involves a number of key elements including capacity building, leveraging of resources, and evaluating impact. Sustainability should be built into the plan at multiple levels and in multiple steps. [See SAMHSA Planning for SustainabilitySustainability Assessment Tool, and the BCJI Sustainability Matrix]