How to reduce the decline of our neighborhood?
June 23, 2006 6:40 AM   Subscribe

The incidence of petty crime, particularly vandalism of flower planters (even in daylight), is up lately in our (small city) neighborhood. The ratio of absentee landlords to owner-occupied has been increasing over the years, and the quality of life in the neighborhood is slowly declining (e.g., more trash in the street, petty vandalism, graffiti, outright theft). Fundamentally, the solution is economic, and the city is slowly working on that. But in the short term, what are effective crime reduction methods that can be implemented at the neighborhood level (i.e., we can't direct the police to patrol more or install more street lights, but we could organize a "neighborhood watch")?
posted by juliewhite to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if you're in a small town or not. Regardless, we had the same problems in the neighborhood we opened our shop in. To the point of chasing hookers and drug dealers off the street, who were operating in broad daylight.

It was a little scary the first time I did this, but it gets easier. Basically, confront those people. Calmly, I should add. I would go up to hooker/dealer, who were standing in the vacant lot by our building and ask "what are you doing? Do you need something?" The answer would invariably be "no" or "waiting for a friend." I would then say "well, you can't just hang out in that lot. Wait on the corner." That would be that. A half hour later I'd go back and do the same thing if they were still there. More often than not they weren't. The point is that you noticed them and addressed them. This stopped after two weeks.

As for the vandalism, that's pretty simple. If you see it happening, tell them to knock it the fuck off. People are too polite with this sort of thing. They don't want to cause a scene or erroneously accuse someone, especially if they're a different race. So it becomes a sort of complicit compliance.

Good luck with the neighborhood group thing. More often than not they just devolve into bitchfests with nobody taking any action items. If you can get it to work, great. I know of one neighborhood group that regularly patrols the streets and tells the hookers/johns/dealers that they'll be back in fifteen minutes. They keep harassing them, telling them to move on, until they do so. The point is to be consistent. Let them know you see them and that it's not cool. If they have any sense at all they'll move on. If not, call the cops. Once they know you mean business it'll improve.
posted by Atom12 at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2006

A Neighborhood watch would be a fine thing to implement. I would believe that contacting the police department would be the best way to get such a thing started.

How is the atmosphere on the street? Is it something where people want to stay inside? If not, I would seek to start programs that make for interaction between neighbors and families. Its always easier to steal or damage things which belong to strangers, not people you know.
posted by Atreides at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2006

I see people throw trash out their car windows all the time, usually at stop lights. I rush over, pick up the trash, and throw it back into their car. They get the point very quickly.
posted by camworld at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2006

Read up on Broken Windows theory, which addresses the problem directly. What I think it bears out is that the community will respond to the standards you set. You can communicate your standards by:

  • Keeping your own home looking neat and picked up
  • Picking up trash around the neighborhood
  • Getting together with neighbors to talk about the problem and just get to know one another and have fun
  • Spending more time outside at all hours of the day and evening, indicating that there is an alert presence on your street
  • Beautifying - planting flowers, neatening up, making a pocket garden/ If someone messes it up, put it back. Half of the game is being more stubborn and unquashable than the vandals.

    If you take positive actions like this, you might not need to organize a 'neighborhood watch', which has a police-y feel to it. The idea is just to improve the social connections, environmental awareness, and atmosphere within your neighborhood.

  • posted by Miko at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2006

    I'd also recommend taking the broken windows approach.

    Also, if you know your city council members, perhaps you can get them to pass a law like the one I heard about maybe 3 years ago, I think in Tampa. The gist of it is, if you're a landlord and you have the police called to your property more than x times/year, the property is condemned/seized for a period of time (a year?). The law is meant to force landlords to pick higher quality tenants and push crime out of neighborhoods with high absentee landlordism. I don't recall where I first heard of this (was it on mefi?), but it sounds brilliant, although I've never heard how well it was working out.
    posted by kimota at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2006

    Are you sure you can't get more police patrols? Our "neighborhood safety" group is working pretty closely with the police, who definitely are working consistently to clean up our neighborhood.

    Granted, our problem is petty vandalism combined with drug dealing, so there's a bit more for them to work with, but they've been really encouraging of our efforts to keep vandalism down.

    The biggest things they asked of us:

    1. Getting "No Trespassing" signs and posting them in our doorways, entryways, staircases, or anywhere else vandalism/loitering was happening. They said they couldn't just go up and harass someone hanging out on a stoop -- unless the stoop had a No Trespassing sign, in which case it's legal to ask the people to move, or possibly to search them if there's cause (again, more of an issue for drug dealers). It basically gives the police license to be a more visible force in the neighborhood.

    2. Calling 911 consistently, even for relatively minor things. Basically, you need to harass the police into giving your area more attention. The officers also said not to bother with the non-emergency police line; it's the dispatcher's job to prioritize the calls coming in, not ours.

    I know the organizers of the committee also have been working with the DA to get more crimes prosecuted, and more "Stay Away" orders for repeat offenders, but I don't know the details. (A lot of this is due to the projects at the end of the neighborhood, and some of it is coming from residents there who are sick of being ignored by the police and harassed by residents and their friends. I know the police and the project housing manager are working to evict the most problematic tenants.)

    Other than that, there have been a lot of "Community Clean-Up" days for planting gardens and picking up trash in the public park areas, and people do seem to be taking better care of their own planters.

    Through all of this, it's definitely gotten much better in the the past year. After having lived in Boston, I've also been amazed at how compassionate and fair the beat police officers are here -- they actually also started up an after-school reading program for the most disadvantaged kids because "it'll help lower crime for the future" -- so YMMV with your local cops. But I would think that if you just called and asked for a bunch of No Trespassing signs to hand out throughout the neighborhood, and asked to develop a plan for enforcement of those signs, you'd get some help.
    posted by occhiblu at 7:57 AM on June 23, 2006

    Biggest hints you're in a bad neighborhood:

    Chainlink fences in the front yard and no trespassing signs.

    Don't add either of them. If you find you must, it is time to move because the neighborhood is in a cycle of decline that you will not live long enough to see through and have it be worth it.
    posted by 517 at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2006

    Start lobbying your city council about the zoning. Absentee-landlord places very quickly degrade into slums.

    I'd still go for the neighborhood watch thing.. that's if your neighbors even speak the same language and are even interested.
    posted by drstein at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2006

    Heh. We're in an up-and-coming neighborhood that's constantly getting more chichi boutiques, more condos, more upscale restaurants. It's not a bad neighborhood, it's certainly not in decline, and the No Trespassing signs don't seem to be bringing things downhill. (There aren't the big ugly red ones, but single 8x11 sheets with the relevant ordinances printed on them, and they need to be replaced every six months by law.)

    But like I said, I'm willing to admit geographical distances.
    posted by occhiblu at 9:24 AM on June 23, 2006

    differences. Though I'm willing to admit geographical distances as well.
    posted by occhiblu at 9:27 AM on June 23, 2006

    occuhiblu, yeah for all I know, in San Francisco things may work very differently. And I'm not saying that either of those things actually cause decline in the neighborhood but that they are a reaction to it and an indicator of it. Of course, if you start to see them disappearing, it's a good sign and time to buy.

    That observation isn't really mine, I haven't been around long enough to know it. It came from one of the old guys I used to work for when I was in real estate stuff.

    Some other things he said regarding neighborhoods in in average sized Michigan cities:

    Neighborhoods cycle, both short term (variable) and longer term (like 30 years). You can hasten the cycling but you can't avoid it. If you're caught in a downward cycle think in decades.
    posted by 517 at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2006

    « Older Digal Photography Workflow   |   How does sodium affect your blood pressure? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.