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Healthy & Safe Communities: DON Grants, Neighborhood Policing and Crime Reduction

In my Council Committee, I oversee both Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Department of Neighborhoods (DON). Although it is one of our smaller city departments, DON is mighty. It offers many possibilities to “strengthen Seattle by actively engaging all communities.” DON’s work has far reaching benefits, including crime reduction, one of the most important issues in our city, and something I work to address daily on the Council.

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Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods was officially formed in 1989 to engage and deepen the relationship between neighbors, their community, and City Hall. Back then it was known as the Office of Neighborhoods and was run by Jim Diers, a community organizer and civic engagement genius. His book, Neighbor Power, is one of my favorites.

NeighborPowerBookJimDiers&Troll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the years, DON has grown and changed, but its underlying mission has remained the same, to help neighbors join together to affect the change they wish to see in their communities. Every neighborhood is concerned about public safety, and thanks to smart neighbors we’re seeing results.

Recently, academics outside of Seattle wrote an article arguing that the Neighborhood Matching Fund, DON’s grant for community projects, is actually having a direct and positive impact on crime. As the authors stated, “[there is an] inverse relationship between NMF funding and violent crime rates, a relationship that is stronger in poorer neighborhoods” (Ramey & Shrider, “New parochialism, sources of community investment, and the Control of Street Crime,” 2014).

The fact that the Neighborhood Matching Fund actually decreases crime rates is a powerful statement about the importance of community engagement in neighborhood growth and development. I also serve on the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, chaired by Councilmember Bruce Harrell. In the Public Safety Committee we work directly with the Seattle Police Department to make sure our policing practices are effective and equitable. With the hiring of our new Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the department is undergoing broad reaching changes to adopt cutting edge technologies, community and neighborhood specific policing policies, and community engagement to become one of the top police departments in the country.

One of the most successful efforts in 2014 was the “Find it, Fix it” Community Walks that took place all over Seattle as part of the Summer of Safety. Over the course of the summer and early fall, the Mayor and Police hosted eight community walks, ranging from South Jackson Street, to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, to Lake City and Capitol Hill. Community members walked with the Mayor, City Council Members, the Police Chief, and other City staff, noting safety issues present in the built environment.

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(Photos courtesy of the Mayor’s Office, the ID before and after graffiti remediation)

This was an opportunity for residents to voice concerns about graffiti, lighting, litter, overgrowth, and more in crime hot spots. City Departments, including SPU, are now working to make identified improvements in these neighborhoods. For more information about this community effort, see the information page here. If you would like to see one of these walks take place in your neighborhood, reach out the the Mayor’s Office and let them know how your community will pitch in to help.

It is clear now that we cannot rely on solely on the police to solve neighborhood crime issues. Academic studies confirm that grass roots organizing and community involvement are truly necessary to making sure we have safe and vibrant neighborhoods.

FremontTrollMany people in Seattle know the Fremont Troll, but did you know that the Troll was created with NMF funds? In 1989, the Fremont Arts Council was considering how to activate the space under the Aurora Bridge, which was frequented by drug dealers and used as a dumping ground. Community members were commissioned to create models that would be voted on by the community at the Fremont Fair. The design for the Troll was eventually selected and the group was granted NMF funds to construct the project. The troll was made with rebar steel, wire and 2 tons of messy ferroconcrete, and took seven weeks to finish. To this day, all who pass under the bridge can enjoy the tribute to Fremont’s quirky culture. This is yet one more example of the creative and community driven projects that serve to reduce crime and bring neighbors together in a meaningful way.

Now I welcome your input. What kind of projects would you like to see take place in your community? How can you strengthen the fabric of your neighborhood? There are huge opportunities for impactful and long-term change. For starters, DON has a grant called the “Small and Simple Projects Fund” which provides awards up to $25,000 to support community members in building relationships around a project. The next round of applications is due February 3. What a great project to begin in the New Year! For more information, see DON’s great resource page here.

What will you do to protect and strengthen your community?

Finally, I am excited to announce that this year I will be hosting a series of events I am calling “Mainstreet Meetups” to address public safety downtown. Mainstreet Meetups will be a chance to discuss the public safety challenges businesses face on a day-to-day basis as well as an opportunity for resource sharing, from the Police, City Council, Office of Economic Development, as well as the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), a branch of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). The first conversation will take place Wednesday, February 11th at Ancient Grounds Café (1220 1st Avenue, 1st & University). I hope this first conversation will inspire businesses in other parts of the City to join together to identify the public safety issues they face and how the City and Community might assist them in their efforts. I plan to kickstart this effort across the City and hope that you will join me!

Works Cited

Ramey, David M. and Emily A. Shrider. 2014. New parochialism, sources of community investment, and the control of street crime. Criminology & Public Policy, 13: 193-216.

Department of Neighborhoods Website, http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf/

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