Community Prosecution Strategies: Three Examples

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Community Prosecution Strategies: Three Examples

One of the hallmarks of community prosecution programs is the search for new solutions to neighborhood problems. Here are three examples of community prosecution programs in action, excerpted from "Prosecution in the Community: A Study of Emergent Strategies," by Catherine M. Coles and George L. Kelling, from September 1998:

Several types of problem-solving activities are currently being led by prosecutors: special programs or projects created to address a particular crime problem city-wide; special programs that target crime and public safety conditions generally, in one neighborhood; and ongoing problem-solving in community prosecution units and other special units in prosecutors' offices. Prosecutors also participate in efforts that are led by police, mayors, and other officials.

We describe here two recent problem-solving projects that we have observed, and one example of how a prosecutor identified a problem that would lead to more formal problem-solving.

Kansas City: Targeting Crime in a Neighborhood—the Paseo Corridor Drug and Crime-Free Community Partnership
In June of 1998, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Best Practice award in the category of neighborhood transformation went to COMBAT [an anti-drug initiative largely controlled by the prosecutor, Claire McCaskill, and funded by a sales tax] for the Paseo Corridor Project. Formed in February 1997 under the leadership of the County Prosecutor, the partnership represented more than 60 property owners, community and neighborhood organizations, local, state, and federal officials (including the mayor's office, City Council and city departments, city, state and federal prosecutors, Kansas City Police Department, and Housing and Urban Development, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms), and resident groups. Its goal was to clean up a 15-block area of Kansas City—once a beautiful boulevard, but more recently one of the worst crime areas in the city. The area has a concentration of assisted housing, with extensive drug and criminal activity. Although Kristen Rosselli, director of planning for COMBAT in the county prosecutor's office, organized the partnership and coordinated its work (also participating were the head of the Drug Abatement Response Team from the [prosecutor's] office), six committees were established to carry out particular functions: partnership agreement/monitoring, lease/rules and regulations, law enforcement, faith initiative, resident empowerment, and economic development. In a signed agreement, participants established a mission, which was to improve the quality of life for residents, business owners, and employees in the corridor, and a coordinated three-phase strategy. Phase 1 would focus on attaining safety, security and economic stability; Phase 2 on lifestyle enrichment and self-sufficiency; and Phase 3 on community development through economic empowerment.

After the first year, the crime rate in the corridor had been reduced by 50 percent, and residents reported that they felt safer. A uniform lease agreement, rules, and regulations had been adopted by all multifamily properties. A nearby Weed-and-Seed area was expanded to include the corridor, and over 25 abandoned buildings, sites of drug activity, had been demolished. A neighborhood liquor store began carrying more groceries and changed its name to a market. The Kansas City Police Department was denying signature bonds for incidents in the area, and the courts agreed to stiffer conditions of probation for prostitution-related crimes. Property owners and managers helped to change the Missouri Landlord/Tenant Law to expedite evictions for drug-related crimes in rental housing, and a landlord-training program was set up to teach landlords and property owners ways of reducing drug and criminal activity in rental housing. Finally, according to Rosselli, "lines have blurred between public housing residents, those living in privately-owned Section 8 housing, and other inhabitants of this area. Residents have begun looking at each other as neighbors and community partners."

Indianapolis: A Citywide Problem—Safe Parks Initiative
In June 1996, Prosecutor [Scott] Newman, along with Mayor Steve Goldsmith, announced the Safe Parks Partnership, a program to curb criminal activity, especially drug dealing, public indecency, vandalism, and prostitution (mostly misdemeanors), in city parks in order to make them a "safe haven for kids and families." Newman led the planning for the project, which took place over the course of several months, and included the involvement of Street Level Advocates [also called community prosecutors] and municipal prosecutors from his office, Indianapolis Park Rangers, the Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department, Indianapolis Greenways, the Corporation Counsel, and the Public Defender's Office. Once in operation, neighborhood groups and volunteers would also become involved. The law enforcement components of the initiative would be carried out through IPD [Indianapolis Police Department] and Ranger bike patrols, undercover operations in secluded park areas, and occasional curfew sweeps for late-night violence and gang activity.

The Prosecutor's Office devised special plea policies for dealing with offenders: no pre-trial diversion would be offered for offenses committed on park property; mandatory community work service for acts of vandalism, graffiti and criminal mischief would be performed in the parks; offenders convicted would be banned from all parks for one year, and enhanced penalties would be applied for drug dealers and drug offenses. Cases involving public intoxication were to be filed. Plans were also made for citizen volunteers to be trained, and then under the supervision of Park Rangers, to begin patrolling nature trails with two-way radios, looking for violators. It was hoped that additional efforts would be taken by neighbors of the parks to increase their presence, and eventually push out "negative elements."

Boston: Identifying a Problem—Juveniles in a MBTA [Subway] Station
During the spring of 1997, large groups of high school age youth (up to 500 or more) were congregating after school in the Forest Hills MBTA (subway) station, near English High School. Secretaries from the Prosecutor's Office were talking about it—they were alarmed because of the rowdiness, and fights that sometimes broke out in the station, but could not avoid the area because they took the train home from work. The situation seemed more than what MBTA Police could handle, and Boston Police were called in. When Marcy Cass, director of community prosecution and chief of the District Courts, heard about it, she decided to investigate before taking part in a plan to turn the youth out and arrest offenders. She sent one of the PIPS (Prosecutors in Police Stations) prosecutors she supervised out to take a look—he talked with police, probation officials, street workers, and some of the kids themselves, and stumbled onto a surprising explanation. Kids were gathering in the "T" station, coming from a number of schools, because it was a safe place: there were too many police around for anyone to risk taking a weapon in, and so any fights that broke out would be "clean." A new project was born—the Forest Hills Safety Project—bringing together city and municipal police, prosecutors, street workers, probation officers, and school principals and police. Prosecutors began working on a committee formed to search for solutions: the goal would be to devise a plan—short of arresting and prosecuting the juveniles—for addressing the problem of how to provide a safe environment for the youth, while reclaiming the station for "T" passengers who had become afraid to use it.

Several types of problem-solving activities are currently being led by prosecutors: special programs or projects created to address a particular crime problem city-wide; special programs that target crime and public safety conditions generally, in one neighborhood; and ongoing problem-solving in community prosecution units and other special units in prosecutors' offices. Prosecutors also participate in efforts that are led by police, mayors, and other officials.

We describe here two recent problem-solving projects that we have observed, and one example of how a prosecutor identified a problem that would lead to more formal problem-solving.

Kansas City: Targeting Crime in a Neighborhood—the Paseo Corridor Drug and Crime-Free Community Partnership
In June of 1998, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Best Practice award in the category of neighborhood transformation went to COMBAT [an anti-drug initiative largely controlled by the prosecutor, Claire McCaskill, and funded by a sales tax] for the Paseo Corridor Project. Formed in February 1997 under the leadership of the County Prosecutor, the partnership represented more than 60 property owners, community and neighborhood organizations, local, state, and federal officials (including the mayor's office, City Council and city departments, city, state and federal prosecutors, Kansas City Police Department, and Housing and Urban Development, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms), and resident groups. Its goal was to clean up a 15-block area of Kansas City—once a beautiful boulevard, but more recently one of the worst crime areas in the city. The area has a concentration of assisted housing, with extensive drug and criminal activity. Although Kristen Rosselli, director of planning for COMBAT in the county prosecutor's office, organized the partnership and coordinated its work (also participating were the head of the Drug Abatement Response Team from the [prosecutor's] office), six committees were established to carry out particular functions: partnership agreement/monitoring, lease/rules and regulations, law enforcement, faith initiative, resident empowerment, and economic development. In a signed agreement, participants established a mission, which was to improve the quality of life for residents, business owners, and employees in the corridor, and a coordinated three-phase strategy. Phase 1 would focus on attaining safety, security and economic stability; Phase 2 on lifestyle enrichment and self-sufficiency; and Phase 3 on community development through economic empowerment.

After the first year, the crime rate in the corridor had been reduced by 50 percent, and residents reported that they felt safer. A uniform lease agreement, rules, and regulations had been adopted by all multifamily properties. A nearby Weed-and-Seed area was expanded to include the corridor, and over 25 abandoned buildings, sites of drug activity, had been demolished. A neighborhood liquor store began carrying more groceries and changed its name to a market. The Kansas City Police Department was denying signature bonds for incidents in the area, and the courts agreed to stiffer conditions of probation for prostitution-related crimes. Property owners and managers helped to change the Missouri Landlord/Tenant Law to expedite evictions for drug-related crimes in rental housing, and a landlord-training program was set up to teach landlords and property owners ways of reducing drug and criminal activity in rental housing. Finally, according to Rosselli, "lines have blurred between public housing residents, those living in privately-owned Section 8 housing, and other inhabitants of this area. Residents have begun looking at each other as neighbors and community partners."

Indianapolis: A Citywide Problem—Safe Parks Initiative
In June 1996, Prosecutor [Scott] Newman, along with Mayor Steve Goldsmith, announced the Safe Parks Partnership, a program to curb criminal activity, especially drug dealing, public indecency, vandalism, and prostitution (mostly misdemeanors), in city parks in order to make them a "safe haven for kids and families." Newman led the planning for the project, which took place over the course of several months, and included the involvement of Street Level Advocates [also called community prosecutors] and municipal prosecutors from his office, Indianapolis Park Rangers, the Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff's Department, Indianapolis Greenways, the Corporation Counsel, and the Public Defender's Office. Once in operation, neighborhood groups and volunteers would also become involved. The law enforcement components of the initiative would be carried out through IPD [Indianapolis Police Department] and Ranger bike patrols, undercover operations in secluded park areas, and occasional curfew sweeps for late-night violence and gang activity.

The Prosecutor's Office devised special plea policies for dealing with offenders: no pre-trial diversion would be offered for offenses committed on park property; mandatory community work service for acts of vandalism, graffiti and criminal mischief would be performed in the parks; offenders convicted would be banned from all parks for one year, and enhanced penalties would be applied for drug dealers and drug offenses. Cases involving public intoxication were to be filed. Plans were also made for citizen volunteers to be trained, and then under the supervision of Park Rangers, to begin patrolling nature trails with two-way radios, looking for violators. It was hoped that additional efforts would be taken by neighbors of the parks to increase their presence, and eventually push out "negative elements."

Boston: Identifying a Problem—Juveniles in a MBTA [Subway] Station
During the spring of 1997, large groups of high school age youth (up to 500 or more) were congregating after school in the Forest Hills MBTA (subway) station, near English High School. Secretaries from the Prosecutor's Office were talking about it—they were alarmed because of the rowdiness, and fights that sometimes broke out in the station, but could not avoid the area because they took the train home from work. The situation seemed more than what MBTA Police could handle, and Boston Police were called in. When Marcy Cass, director of community prosecution and chief of the District Courts, heard about it, she decided to investigate before taking part in a plan to turn the youth out and arrest offenders. She sent one of the PIPS (Prosecutors in Police Stations) prosecutors she supervised out to take a look—he talked with police, probation officials, street workers, and some of the kids themselves, and stumbled onto a surprising explanation. Kids were gathering in the "T" station, coming from a number of schools, because it was a safe place: there were too many police around for anyone to risk taking a weapon in, and so any fights that broke out would be "clean." A new project was born—the Forest Hills Safety Project—bringing together city and municipal police, prosecutors, street workers, probation officers, and school principals and police. Prosecutors began working on a committee formed to search for solutions: the goal would be to devise a plan—short of arresting and prosecuting the juveniles—for addressing the problem of how to provide a safe environment for the youth, while reclaiming the station for "T" passengers who had become afraid to use it.

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