Community Crime Fighters Wield Newsletters Against Crime
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Community crime fighters have hit upon a simple but effective weapon in the battle to keep their streets safe _ the neighborhood newsletter.
The brief, monthly publications become focal points for community policing efforts, informing neighbors about trouble spots and opening communication between residents and police.
``Some neighbors don’t know what’s going on. You need some way to communicate,″ said Savannah, Ga., Police Maj. Dan Reynolds. ``This provides a vehicle for communication from neighbor to neighbor.″
From Savannah to San Diego to Lowell, Mass., residents have found detailed crime information helps increase cooperation with police and target anti-crime efforts more effectively.
``We want this community to be a quality residential community and we want it to be hostile to crime,″ said Mary Harcar, who helped start a newsletter in one Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington.
``A lot of people move in and out and they need to be made aware that it’s a great neighborhood, but you have to keep on your toes,″ said her husband, Peter Garcia.
The first edition of ``Beat 25″ was published in June 1994. Like five other neighborhood newsletters on Capitol Hill, it adopted a patrol beat as its area to fit the police structure.
The newsletter was printed free by a local company. As volunteers delivered it door to door, it increased interest in monthly meetings and turned out recruits for a neighborhood watch program and a citizen patrol that walks a beat Thursday nights, never far from the glow of the Capitol dome.
Some worried that detailed crime information would scare people away from the Hill. But Harcar said she and others settled on a simple principle: ``Knowing is better than not knowing.″
The March 1995 newsletter reported a rape in a neighboring beat, several robberies, and a neighborhood watch success: neighbors called police and a thief was caught breaking into a car on a Sunday afternoon.
It also carried a computerized map pinpointing every crime committed in the area during the past month.
``Twenty-six burglaries during January 1995 constituted a record number for any one month in Beat 25,″ it reported. ``At this rate, with an estimated 2,000 households,... it would be just 6.5 years before everyone in the beat is a burglary victim. This is completely unacceptable.″
Such information was not always so accessible, according to Wally Bradford, a senior police officer who began the District of Columbia’s community policing initiative in a single Capitol Hill beat in 1990.
The police hierarchy was reluctant to release the data, fearing that residents would blame the messenger for the crimes. But officials acquiesced to the community’s insistence and Bradford’s persistence.
``The argument I made was, how can the community make the right decisions if they’re not given all the facts?″ Bradford said. ``The whole program hinged on the fact that we had to be honest with people.″
Response to the newsletter convinced Bradford he was right. Suddenly he had ample volunteers to be block coordinators, and residents living in other beats started their own anti-crime groups.
``When people started finally seeing crime statistics printed _ the actual number of robberies, rapes, or auto thefts _ the interest grew very rapidly,″ Bradford said.
By focusing on areas and crimes reported in the newsletters, organizers say, citizen patrols and neighborhood watches work more effectively.
``You have to look at the specific areas we address and you see a definite reduction″ in crime, said Bob Heider, head of an umbrella group comprising 21 citizen patrols in San Diego.
Heider said citizen patrols helped reduce graffiti by as much as 80 percent in some neighborhoods and recently aided police in tracking down suspects in a series of assaults.
In San Diego, there are a half-dozen neighborhood newsletters and residents can dial up an electronic bulletin board with their home computers to access crime statistics broken down by census blocks.
Reynolds, who trains officers nationwide in community policing strategies, said there are a half-dozen citizen-produced newsletters in Savannah’s neighborhoods. Two more are printed by officers to keep residents on their beats informed.
In Lowell, Lt. Susan Siopes said the department is producing an internal newsletter for officers and hopes to encourage residents already active in six precincts to publish their own.
``Community policing is all about communication,″ Siopes said. ``This newsletter is a way of increasing and enhancing communication between community groups.″
In Washington, Bradford has trained about 400 officers in community policing since 1994.
``The community is looking for some direction and if you can get the police to give them that lead, they just run away with it,″ he said.