Bettering neighborhoods to fight violent crime

As we debate issues of violence and pre vention, the following realities should be kept in mind. Reported major crime has roughly doubled and doubled again over the last two decades in the United States. It is primarily a phenomenon of large cities, disproportionately committed by young minority males, and disproportionately concentrated in ghetto-slum, inner city, and barrio neighborhoods.

Fear of crime is among the top concerns of American citizens. In recent years, national polls often have found that the issue about which Americans are most concerned is crime. Frequently, it is ranked higher than even a concern with inflation or unemployment. In inner city areas, where so much crime occurs , personal security at home is the number one concern of residents. It has moved ahead of food, clothing, employment, and health.

By far the greatest proportion of all serious violence is committed by repeaters, not by one-time offenders. The number of hardcore repeaters is small relative to the number of one-time offenders. Yet the repeaters have a much higher rate of violent crime and inflict considerably more injury.

Crime and fear of crime lead to neighborhood deterioration and abandonment. It is conventionally held that the physical deterioration of residential neighborhoods, disinvestment, housing abandonment, block busting, and the like encourage crime.

But the pattern works the other way as well: crime leads to deterioration. This means that a policy against violence also is a residential rehabilitation policy that can reverse population outmovement and losses of urban tax bases. Not only does crime result in residential and business outmovement, but population and manufacturing departures feed on one another in further accelerating abandonment and encouraging deterioration.

No explanations cover more than a part of the complex phenomenon called violent crime -- or urban disorder. It should be remembered, for example, that whites are associated with a larger volume of crime in the United States, even though rates are disproportionately high for the urban minority poor.

With a concern for these disproportionate rates and an agreement that the perspectives I have sketched account for more of what is happening than other perspective, the [Eisenhower] Violence Commission called for a policy response that balanced community regenerations as the first priority, with legal and criminal justice reform as the second.

Robert Kennedy's Committee and Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime ultimately called for mobilization of the poor to help themselves. Yet the Committee was dismayed by "the absence of demonstrated indigenous leadership in slum communities." At the same time, however, the Ford foundation started to build such leadership -- through, for example, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and the Woodlawn Organization. In 1967, the President's Crime Commission urged neighborhood self-help as a way to supplement over-taxed police forces -- and to return communities to an earlier time when neighbors looked out after one another more than is common in today's increasingly anonymous urban communities. Similar recommendations were made by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders and the Violence Commission.

In response to Commission recommendations and the state of the nation's neighborhoods, the 1970s saw a number of public sector neighborhood anti-crime programs. Some examples of success started to emerge. Yet, in spite of their potential, these public sector programs today are being cut back or eliminated in the name of ostensibly overriding economic policies. Now, at least, it is up to the private sector to pick up the slack. Groups which have already succeeded in organizing against crime need to be brought together with groups which want to try. Modest startup resources are necessary.

The new Eisenhower Foundation intends to accept this responsibility. We intend to facilitate:

* Indentification of and investment in the core of natural, indigenous neighborhood leaders.

* Establishment of block watches, patrols, escort services and related ways to increase social cohesion and a sense of territory.

* Establishment of ways in which neighborhood youth are employed as doers, rather than as recipients of help from outsiders.

* Pursuit of money-making ways to rechannel illegal market activity by youth into legal market activity with upward mobility.

* Establishment of social cohesion among senior citizens who are involved as co-work-ers in a community effort against crime.

* Pursuit of efforts that have proven themselves elsewhere and fit local circumstances.

The potential hardly has been tapped for integrating the protection of businesses into an overall neighborhood safety plan. Most businesses have concetrated on private security guards, target hardening and internal training of their employees. We will extend the coverage to the surrounding community, as well. We will especially look for situations where crime, threats of violence, and incivilities from people on the street create fear -- which is translated into fewer people making their way from their homes to stores or commercial strips.

Basic to the plan is a quid pro quo: the neighborhood organization will promise to reduce fear, incivility and violence in return for financial support from merchant associations and individual businesses -- hopefully made easier through increased revenues from the greater volume of business.

WE also will develop partnerships with large national corporations which have many local outlets or interests -- like all-night convenience stores, insurance companies, and gas stations. Local outlets will be identified and linked to neighborhood organizations in mutually beneficial ways.

In the insurance industry, we will facilitate formation of Mutual Security Insurance Corporations as subsidiaries of reliable neighborhood organizations. A specific geographic area will be designated. Working through the neighborhood organizations, an established insurance company will issue policies for person and property at reasonable rates -- if a high percentage of all households and businesses agree to buy the designated insurance company's package. It will be the task of the neighborhood organization to mobilize enough residents to reach this proportion --say 70 percent of the households on any given block. As part of the agreement, residents and businessmen will be asked to look out for one another, mutually protect everyone's property against theft and arson, increase cooperation with and reporting to police, and participate in a broader community anticrime effort run by the neighborhood organization. Insurance rates will be raised if victimization survey-based crime frequencies and other appropriate measures increase above a predetermined level. Hence, it will be in the economic self-interest of residents and businessmen to work together.

But, because the underlying causes [of violence] also relate to blocked economic opportunity and structural unemployment, the notion of neighborhood self-help must embrace employment and economic development, as well as crime prevention.

If youths can be trained to rehabilitate houses, they will learn a profession with upward mobility and considerable promise for future job security -- rather than a dead-ended task that just makes work. If such rehabilitation is done in an inner city neighborhood and the houses are homesteaded to the poor there, then constructive employment has been channeled into physical stake in one's turf. With such a stake, it will be easier to mobilize citizens to protect their property and their neighbors. If the process is guided by a neighborhood organization indigenous to the community, then there is some insurance that the benefits will not drain off and reward outside interests. If the neighborhood organization can secure job training and actual job slots from the corporate world in return from some quid pro quo, then a partial alternative to present public and private sector employment training programs may emerge. If it does, then the possibility exists for new forms of public-private sector partnerships that acknowledge how neither sector, alone, can do much about black teenage unemployment rates of over 80 percent in the highest crime areas of inner cities.

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