By Anthony C. Bollinger and Mel Williams
ike many other U.S. cities, Titusville, Florida, has a neighborhood that challenges law enforcement’s ability to provide effective policing to its citizens and threatens to reduce the quality of life for everyone in the community. In Titusville this neighborhood is known as Zone 2.
In Zone 2 there was a core area where open-air drug sales, prostitution, and other crime existed for years. Bounded by Garden Street and U.S. Route 1 to the north, Harrison Street to the south, Barna and Park Avenues to the west, and Hopkins Avenue to the east, this core area of Zone 2 historically had the highest crime rate, the lowest income, and the greatest demand for police services.
As the hub for low-income and public housing, this economically challenged neighborhood also struggled with nuisance residences, abandoned vehicles, cluttered yards, yard trash, and vacant, deteriorating homes. Particularly problematic have been crime and quality-of-life problems at apartment complexes. Residents evicted from one property because of nuisance or criminal activities and nonpayment of rent simply move from one property to the other, carrying with them their negative activities. These problems have caused an increase in criminal activities and facilitated not only the criminal element but also created a sense of hopelessness within the community.
Typically, beat officers responded to crime-related problems in the community in an incident-driven, rapid-response fashion. The response attitude was to go in, handle the call, and get out until the next call. This approach quelled the momentary threats, but it did not address the causes of the problem or the concerns of the residents about conditions in the neighborhood that contributed to crime. It created a relationship void between law enforcement and the community, fostering community’s perception that the neighborhood lacked police presence and suffered from slow response times to calls for service.
These problems were compounded by a lack of positive alternatives for the youth of the community. Because many of the homes in the area are single-parent households or households where both parents work, during the critical after-school hours of 3:00–7:00 p.m., many kids had nothing to do and no direct supervision, a deadly combination.
Through the years, several different solutions were considered and implemented as a means of addressing the identified problems in Zone 2. But none were sufficiently comprehensive to reduce crime and improve the quality of life for residents. In the new strategy, law enforcement agencies, social service providers, various city departments, and youth service organizations would coordinate their activities in Zone 2 to address the array of crime-related problems and social needs. The consolidation of services offered the maximum benefit to the residents needing assistance. The revitalization plan does not simply end; instead, the police department, individual police officers, and Zone 2 partners continue to explore new and creative solutions to the identified problems.
The Titusville Police Department is committed to making the city as safe as possible for all citizens. Recognizing that the other efforts did not accomplish the mission and acknowledging the long-standing problems in Zone 2, the department in 2000 committed to establishing long-term goals to fix the situation. It developed the Zone 2 Strategic Revitalization Plan. The department committed itself to developing strategies that would enhance the quality of life in Zone 2 by implementing initiatives that would increase citizen safety and security through the collective efforts of several partners.
It is understood that many of the problems could not be resolved by law enforcement alone but could only be done through the collaborative efforts of several agencies, and then only if all were willing to evaluate the past and present and use that information to prepare for the future.
The first two years of the plan were spent building partnerships and selling the plan both externally and internally.
A wide variety of partnerships were developed with other city departments, including public works, code enforcement, the city attorney, the community advocate, the state attorney’s office, probation and parole, the county school board, and the city housing authority. Homeowners, apartment owners and managers, business owners, and concerned citizens were also important partners. By 2002 the partnerships had been formed, beat officers had accepted the project, and the partners had developed the basic initiatives.
Among the key initiatives were the creation of an apartment managers association and an apartment complex task force. Partners conducted sweeps to remove abandoned and derelict vehicle and took code enforcement actions to address abandoned and deteriorating properties. The police department shifted patrol strategies from random patrol to directed patrol, supplemented the patrol force with overtime bicycle patrols geared toward known hot spots, and initiated prostitution and drug stings. Partners in the strategic revitalization also sponsored and served quarterly community dinners at the city-run social service center, renovated an area gym, and created an afterschool youth enrichment center.
A series of community-based meetings were held at beginning of the process of identifying all of the potential stakeholders and partners. Town Hall meetings were held within the Zone 2 community as a first step to bridging the gap between the community and the Titusville Police Department. The meetings were a means for receiving citizens’ input, encouraging their involvement, and gaining their trust. Through the meetings, the major community concerns were identified for partnership focus.
An equally important source of input and information was from the officers assigned to Zone 2. Monthly meetings were held allowing for the exchange of information and the officers’ knowledge of activities in the community and of the community in general was vital to identifying and prioritizing problems that needed to be addressed.
The objectives of this initiative were simple—improve the overall quality of life for the citizens of Zone 2. To do this, the police department committed to accomplishing the following:
• Eliminating the open-air sales of drugs
• Increasing community trust and involvement
• Enhancing youth services
• Increasing officer presence in the community
Town hall meetings gave members of the community an opportunity to share their views with the police, and their input, combined with the direct observations and feedback of officers assigned to the sector, provided police officials with a clear picture of the problems to be addressed. This information was checked and confirmed through daily crime analysis of the activities in the area of concern.
Analysis of Calls for Service
Through the use of a department volunteer, police conducted a daily analysis of all calls for service in Zone 2 and shared the information with officers assigned to the area. The volunteer plotted and tracked service calls and other police encounters on a pin map to make it easier to identify patterns and problems.
Throughout the revitalization plan, information flow has been the greatest tool for keeping the Zone 2 plan in focus. For example, now at the completion of each shift, supervisors complete a shift report that highlights any activity in Zone 2 that is pertinent to the revitalization plan. As other shifts come on duty, they read this information and follow up or respond, making for around-the-clock communications. This information flow, combined with daily analysis of activities and monthly meetings with officers and project partners, helped to keep the project in focus.
By engaging in constant information exchange and the daily analysis of activities in the zone, these techniques allowed for continuous evaluation of progress and provided the ability to determine if stated goals are being met. In this article, just a few of the significant partnerships are highlighted.
Apartment Managers Association
The apartment managers association, created through the partnership of the state attorney’s neighborhood attorney and the owners and managers of the apartment complexes in and around Zone 2, identifies and develops solutions for problems in multiunit housing properties. The most common problem identified involved residents who were evicted from one property because of nuisance or criminal activities or nonpayment of rent and simply moved from one property to the other, carrying with them the continuation of their negative activities.
Members of the association meet once a month and exchange information about evictions and other topics. The association invites speakers who can help apartment managers solve problems. Among the speakers are representatives from Florida Power and Light Company, Southern Bell, and attorneys.
Monthly meetings of apartment managers are not enough, as it turns out, so the partners formed the Apartment Complex Task Force (ACTF). The ACTF is made up of a group of TPD officers who are each assigned a specific apartment complex, and they serve as a direct liaison between the police department and the apartment manager. These officers review and analyze weekly calls for service at their assigned property, meet weekly with their property manager, and develop action plans to address specific issues at their property. Action plans have ranged from simply increasing patrols to intensifying surveillance details. The actions of the ACTF have helped reduce problems at individual properties.
Members of the task force also strive to earn community trust and goodwill by involving themselves in positive activities at properties. An example of this was a Christmas 2004 party at a local property. In a follow-up letter, property manager Catherine DeJesus wrote, “I have worked with many law enforcement agencies during my time but none compare to Titusville Police Department when it comes to giving back to the community in such a positive way. I have been told that community policing is only a philosophy but you and your team bring this philosophy into real action.”
Police changed from random patrol to directed patrol in Zone 2. Typically, police have responded to crime-related problems in the Zone 2 community in an incident-driven, rapid-response fashion. This approach quelled the momentary threat but did not address the causes of the problem or the concerns of the residents about conditions in the neighborhood that contributed to crime.
Under the new patrol strategy, officers assigned to Zone 2 identified the hot spots in the zone and spent their uncommitted time there. Hot spots were any locations that were subject to criminal or nuisance activities or traffic problems. The officers’ feedback, combined with feedback from the community, led to a significant reduction in the amount of open-air drug sales in Zone 2. The police department instituted drugs and prostitution stings and overtime bicycle patrols in Zone 2 hot spots. Because of the increased visibility of patrol officers and an increase in enforcement activities, many of the street-corner drug dealers have either left the area or moved indoors.
Another solution in the Zone 2 plan was a partnership with the Titusville Code Enforcement Division. Police officers and code enforcers set out to resolve quality-of-life problems in Zone 2, including abandoned vehicles and derelict properties. During a sweep, officers tagged more than 100 vehicles for removal and issued several citations to owners of properties that were in violation of city code.
The Revitalization Plan Results
These solutions, and many others, were chosen because it was believed that success in any community initiative required trust and mutual cooperation between police, other city departments, other organizations, and local residents. Understanding and awareness of the community’s need for youth programs, safe recreation facilities, social support services, and other quality of life issues were central to an effective and successful project. Police designed the solutions to meet the identified needs.
The primary goal of the Zone 2 revitalization plan was to provide all citizens of Titusville with the safest environment in which to live. To do this it was necessary to address basic quality-of-life issues, eliminate openair drug sales, increase community trust, enhance youth services, and increase officer presence in the area.
The police department and its partners have addressed quality-of-life issues through aggressive code enforcement actions and social services referrals. By partnering with the management of apartment complexes, through department liaisons, the police have reduced crime and safety issues at properties that traditionally required repeat calls for service and were notorious for criminal activities.
Relentless directed patrol strategies have all but eliminated the street corner sale of drugs. The patrol strategy has also helped to correct the residents’ perception that officers were only present in the community when responding to calls.
The total renovation of a local gym and the enhancement of youth services programs to include an after-school youth enrichment center exceeded expectations. Operating during the critical hours when kids are more likely to get into trouble, the enhanced programming has provided more opportunities for kids, increasing the numbers in the gym and reducing the numbers on the streets.
A major achievement came during September 2003 when two apartment complexes were slated to have their water turned off for nonpayment of the bill by the owners, a move that would force residents to move out due to unsafe living conditions. Realizing the devastation that this would cause to many of the families, the police department took the lead in bringing together partners from the city’s social service division, the water department, the finance department, the code enforcement division, and the state attorney’s neighborhood attorney. This group worked together to delay the water turnoff and helped relocate many of the residents before the extended turnoff date. Working with code enforcement the police department went before the city’s code board and secured an emergency order allowing code enforcement to have the two properties boarded up and secured. Trustees from the county jail were brought in to clean the debris and clutter from each of the properties. These efforts prevented the vacant properties from becoming drug houses, hangouts for the homeless, and hazards to local youth.
Even though the goal of the Zone 2 strategic revitalization plan is ultimately to change the quality of life in the target area, the primary emphasis is to make sure the efforts continue to evolve and improve. Police officials want citizens to see and feel the improvement in their quality of life and in their relationship with the police department. Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the community is a win-win situation for everyone involved and has become part of the Titusville Police Department’s standard operating procedure.
Click here to read the Case Study: Code Enforcement by Police Officers