Community Safety Initiative

In most communities, sustainable gains in public safety depend on broader efforts at community development, and community development depends just as heavily on public safety. Recognizing just how closely intertwined these two activities are, the Community Safety Initiative (formerly the Community Security Initiative) has sought to develop partnerships between police and community development corporations (CDCs) in each of several cities around the country in order to develop a broad program for improving the quality of life in neighborhoods. Arising out of a collaboration among the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the CSI has offered funding and technical support to one CDC and one police agency in each city where it has operated. The project has worked with an open-ended design, insisting only that each city use most of its funds to hire a single "coordinator" for its efforts, and that each partnership must assemble a "steering committee" made up of police, CDC representatives, and community members. But the CSI has consistently emphasized a guiding vision-an intention to strengthen the cohesion, vitality, and quality of life in communities by forging a relationship between police and CDCs. These partnerships are expected to take a pragmatic approach to problem solving, taking careful stock of local conditions in order to craft appropriate solutions that combine public safety with community development.

Seattle's Chinatown-International District and the East New York neighborhood in New York City are the two flagship CSI projects. Participants in these two cities are enthusiastic about their results, believing that their projects have been able to reduce crime, forge better relations between police and the community, and promote economic and physical revitalization in each neighborhood. In fact, over the course of their collaborations, these projects have improved information sharing among the police, the CDCs, and many neighborhood residents; enhanced physical security in several neighborhood institutions; built influence with a number of government agencies and private sector players; and strengthened the guardianship and responsibility exercised by many community institutions, generating crime-resistant community development in the process. There are good reasons to believe that all of these activities contribute to public safety and neighborhood revitalization, and many of them simply could not have been accomplished without close coordination between police and CDCs. The authority to carry many of them out is shared between these two institutions. Some of them demand close sequencing of police and CDC actions, and most of them benefit from the "double voice" that partnerships create when they bring together institutions that can speak credibly to complementary audiences.

It would be foolhardy to try to quantify the full range of the CSI's efforts, but in Seattle, at least, police data support the view that the project had an impact along the important dimension of public safety. Crime began to fall more rapidly in the targeted neighborhood than in the city as a whole after the project began. The CSI is the only obvious explanation for this decline. Comparable evidence does not exist for the New York project (although crime apparently did fall dramatically in that neighborhood, many other New York City Police Department efforts probably contributed to the decline); moreover, its participants admit that their project has faced some organizational difficulties that may have limited its effectiveness so far. However, the project has spawned some valuable public safety and community development activities, and it has forged relationships that participants see as a springboard for future success. For all of these reasons, the two flagship CSI projects--and particularly the Seattle effort--show promising signs of progress. They suggest the potential that police-CDC partnerships have for improving safety and fostering revitalization in troubled neighborhoods.

For more information, see Program in Criminal Justice Working Paper #00-05-17 by David Thacher: "The Community Security Initiative: Lessons Learned"

See also KSG Cases on East New York (1528.0 and 1529.0) and Seattle (1531.0 and 1532.0) which accompany this paper.