Keeping Your Neighborhood Safe
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Getting Together to Fight Crime
Something may be wrong in your neighborhood. There's too much violence, or there's an ever-present threat. Perhaps a child you know was robbed. Maybe you've seen signs of drug dealing. Maybe a string of break-ins has you wondering what's coming next. You're uneasy-even frightened-for yourself and your family. Perhaps nothing violent has happened, but you see warning signs-such as graffiti, vandalism, abandoned cars, loitering, litter-that crime and violence may be reaching your neighborhood soon.
You can change things by getting together with neighbors who share your worries. There are two things you need to do: look out for your families and yourselves, and get involved in your community.
People just like you have cleared drug dealing out of their neighborhoods, made parks safe for children and sidewalks secure for play, curbed assaults, reduced muggings, eliminated rapes and murders, wiped out graffiti and vandalism, started programs for teens.
What Kind of Neighborhood?
The neighborhood may be a development of single homes, a row of townhouses, a commercial corridor, an apartment complex, or even a school. Crime may be right there scaring everyone off the streets, or just looming on the horizon. Whatever your neighborhood's like, getting together to fight crime, violence, and drugs can help create communities where children can be children and people once isolated by crime and fear can enjoy being a part of a thriving neighborhood.
Things May Look Fine, But...Whether it's a quiet neighborhood where teens haven't much to do, or a rural town that's been stable, even communities that seem calm can be facing a crime threat. Things may be OK now, but how do you keep them that way?
Everyone can see the early warning signals-the little worries that alert you to the need to prevent bigger problems. The trick is to swing into action at the first sign of trouble, not to wait until it comes to your front door. Abandoned autos, people loitering, vacant homes, graffiti, a rash of break-ins, or other signs of possible trouble should be a clue to act now.
Acting right away on small problems can prevent big ones later.
It's Too Rough for Me To Get Involved
Maybe crime has a strong grip in your neighborhood-street violence, muggings, drug dealing, shootings. People see the situation as out of hand. Some people are scared that the criminals will take revenge if they act.
There are at least three ways to counter fear. First, join together. There is strength in numbers. Most criminals attack victims who are alone-not in groups. And groups can rally, march, and hold vigils to demonstrate their commitment. Second, you can work with the police to set up a system that lets people remain anonymous and still report crimes. Third, you don't have to meet where the problem is. In one neighborhood, people met several blocks away at a local church. No one felt singled out, and everyone gained as crime was slowly but surely driven out.
- First, find out what's already going on. Groups that are already working against crime and drugs will welcome and help you. Ask the local police, especially the crime prevention staff; check with community associations and civic groups as well as clubs.
- Is there an existing group that ought to be involved in preventing crime? A home-school organization like PTA; a tenants' group; a fraternity or sorority; a community service club such as Lions, Rotary, or JayCees; a social club; a church; a mental health association; a taxpayers' or homeowners' association-these are just some kinds of groups that can be a base for action.
- No group ready to adopt crime prevention? Start a group in your neighborhood-even if it's just on your block. You don't have to be the leader, but you could organize the first meeting.
Getting Neighbors Together
You've already talked with some neighbors-at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, over the back fence, at the bus stop, across the kitchen table. You know people are unhappy about the way things are, that they'd like to see something done.
The next step-make that discussion a bit more purposeful and organized. Set up a meeting to decide how you want to change things. Here are some tips for that first session.
- Be sure it doesn't conflict with other important events.
- Make sure there is enough room at the meeting place for everyone to be comfortably seated. Not enough room at a home in the neighborhood? Maybe a church basement, a school classroom, or a business or community meeting room is available.
- Plan to keep the meeting fairly brief-less than two hours is probably good. Have an agenda prepared for the group's approval.
- Invite people in person, by phone, by flier-whatever's most appropriate. Knock on doors, send notes, or make phone calls to remind them.
- Invite schools, businesses, and houses of worship to send representatives. Ask local officials-law enforcement, elected officials, social services, others-to send someone who can explain how they can help.
- Share the work so that people work together from the start. One person can organize refreshments; another can be in charge of reminder calls. Someone else can set up the room. Someone can take notes and write up your group's decisions. Another neighbor can be the "researcher," gathering information in advance. Another can lead the discussion.
- Allow people to share their concerns. You'll be surprised how much you all have in common. But don't get caught in a gripe session.
- Remember, you're there as a group to decide what problems you'll tackle and what actions you'll take, not just to talk. Everyone should have a chance to take part, but be sure the group makes some clear decisions.
- Your group should consider surveying neighbors, either in person or by phone, to get a better idea of the range of their problems and concerns.
- Don't plan to tackle every problem at once. The group should identify one or two issues that need immediate action-but keep track of (and get back to) other problems. For instance, parents and youth may need drug prevention education, but the more immediate problem might be closing down drug sales in the neighborhood.
- List next steps and who will take them. Try to get everyone to commit to helping with your plan. Agree on the next time, date, and place for a meeting and the subjects that should be covered.
- Unsure about how to run a meeting? Talk to a member of the clergy, a local civic leader, a business person, the League of Women Voters, or the Chamber of Commerce. One of them will be glad to share experiences in making meetings effective.
Everyone Can Do Something
As you get under way, it's important to enlist the help of as many people as possible from your community. There's something each person can do to help. Anyone can hand out educational brochures. Young children can pick up litter or learn to settle arguments without fighting; older youth can teach younger ones about preventing violence or organize positive activities like concerts that can replace drug traffic in a nearby park. Caring adults can help troubled youth; families can help each other. Business people can help manage programs and raise funds; civic activists can round up local agencies to meet needs like recreation, housing, or education. Many things help cause crime, violence, and drug abuse problems in a community; many kinds of activity will help to end the problems. Some may be more direct than others, but all will help.
Anyone-and everyone-can take the most basic actions, like reporting suspicious behavior or crimes in progress to the police. Whatever the contribution of time, energy, talent, and resources-small or large-it will help.
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