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Back to Archives | Back to December 2006 Contents 

Baltimore Police Department: Community Safe Zone

By Leonard Hamm and John Skinner

he purpose of this Community Safe Zone Project was to develop a holistic strategy that prevented drug-related violence, restored community stability, and promoted police-community relations in targeted distressed neighborhoods. The Safe Zone Project was placed operationally into a targeted neighborhood for a four-week (28-day) cycle and was applied through five consistent components:

• Redirection of nonresidential traffic patterns
• Coordination of targeted city resources
• Coordination and deployment of social service outreach teams
• Organization police-sponsored community events
• Implementation of a violence intervention program for high-risk juveniles

Through the implementation of these five components, the Community Safe Zone Project immediately eradicated patterns of violence and established long-term stability in the targeted neighborhood.

Pilot Project
In 2005 the community safe zone project was piloted in the Western District of Baltimore. The Western District comprises approximately three square miles. Despite its relatively small size, that district contains some of Baltimore’s most violent and distressed neighborhoods. In many of these neighborhoods, patterns of violence have become part of the fabric and culture of the community. Since 1970 there have been more than 1,700 murders in the Western District, with an annual average of 48 murders per year. Statistically, it is common for neighborhoods in that district to experience significant patterns of violence for short periods of time.

Traditional enforcement strategies and the progression of criminal investigations sometimes lack the ability to quickly stabilize a neighborhood. For example, in the neighborhoods of Calhoun, Baker, and Stricker, eight incidents of outside shootings occurred during a five-month period (January to May 2005). Over the course of these five months, an aggressive enforcement strategy, combined with the investigation of these incidents, was implemented in this area. Despite the dedication of consistent enforcement resources, the neighborhood remained destabilized, with violence and narcotics trafficking displacing to different times of the day. The Community Safe Zone Project was implemented in this neighborhood in May 2005 and brought an immediate reduction of violence to the neighborhood which has remained consistent since implementation.

Redirection of Nonresidential Traffic Patterns
In targeted Safe Zone neighborhoods, the open air drug markets contributed significantly to the patterns of violence. Police determined that most of the narcotic dealers and buyers did not live in the neighborhood where they were trafficking drugs. Fear prevented residents from participating in the reestablishment of the neighborhood.

The Community Safe Zone Project implemented a strategy where nonresidential traffic in a 10-square-block area was redirected away from the neighborhood. Through the use of signs and barricades, community relations officers deterred individuals without lawful business in the neighborhood from entering the community. Residents living in the 10-block Safe Zone were educated in advance of the change in traffic patterns and were told how to enter their neighborhood with little inconvenience. Police implemented this redirection of traffic patterns every day for four weeks. Community relations officers periodically walked the entire Safe Zone neighborhood, going door-to-door, visiting residents, and handing out crime prevention information.

The use of police barricades and the redirection of traffic patterns immediately created confusion in the illegal drug market. Because drug buyers could not enter the neighborhood, the open air drug markets immediately died and vanished from the targeted neighborhood. Patterns of violence immediately stopped and the stability was restored. With this restoration of stability, officers found residents more willing to start working with community relations officers to create Block Watch and Citizen on Patrol programs.

Coordination of Targeted City Resources
Research has proven that the physical appearance of a neighborhood can often contribute to patterns of crime and violence. As criminologist George Kelling explains in his broken windows theory, vacant housing and graffiti can all create the impression that a neighborhood is in a state of deterioration. The signs of decay and neglect encourage criminals and contribute to residents’ fear of crime.

Based on this, through the Community Safe Zone Project the Baltimore Police Department coordinated the implementation of city resources into the targeted neighborhood. This coordination of city resources focused efforts on improving the quality of life among residents through physical improvements. These physical improvements included the following:

• Removal of all trash and debris from streets and alleyways
• Boarding and securing of all vacant dwellings
• Removal of all graffiti
• Repair of all street lighting
• Removal of all gang monikers from trees and poles
• General repair of streets and alleyways
• Installation of overt police camera systems

As a result of these physical improvements, residents became encouraged about the positive changes to their neighborhood. Additionally, these physical improvements reinforced the basic principle that criminal activity and drug dealing would not be tolerated in the neighborhood. The installation of the overt police camera systems called PODSS (Portable Overt Digital Surveillance System) also provided tangible evidence that the changes to the neighborhood were permanent.

Deployment of Social Outreach Teams
In addition to the coordination of city resources, the Baltimore Police Department aggressively solicited private and non-profit organizations to participate in the Community Safe Zone Project. Participating private and non-profit organizations were clustered together into Social Outreach Teams. These teams were then deployed into the targeted neighborhood staffing booths, walking door-to-door, meeting residents and providing services. Over the course of the four week Safe Zone period, 40 different agencies and organization contacted residents within the targeted neighborhoods to offer services such as lead paint testing, drug treatment, parental counseling, job placement, and child mentoring. See figure 1 for a complete list of these participating agencies.

Police-Sponsored Community Events
Over the course of the four-week Safe Zone period, the Baltimore Police Department sponsored three regular community events in each of the targeted neighborhoods. These community events consisted of three elements: job resource fair, youth night, and health fair.

During these community events, public and private agencies intermingled with residents and provided valuable information concerning resources. Additionally, these events allowed the residents to interact with the Baltimore Police Department in nontraditional settings and generally improved police-community relations with the neighborhoods.

For example, during October 2005 in the Penrose and Payson Safe Zone, the Baltimore Police Department along with the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods sponsored a youth night community event where more than 500 pumpkins were distributed to children in the neighborhood. These simple pumpkins provided a powerful symbolic message to all the residents that the quality of life in the neighborhood was improving.

Violence Intervention Program
In January 2006 the Baltimore Police Department built upon the foundation of this Community Safe Zone Project by creating a police-based intervention program that targeted high-risk juveniles in Safe Zone neighborhoods. The Baltimore Police Department worked in partnership with the Department of Juvenile Services to implement a seven-week program that paired juveniles on probation with police officer mentors. Through this program, juveniles on probation were ordered to attend dynamic weekly sessions that focused on conflict resolution, violence interdiction, and goal development. These weekly sessions were organized in the following manner:

Week 1—Open/Community Conferencing: Through a community conferencing facilitator, juveniles and police officers discussed police-community relations.

Week 2—North American Family Institute: Juveniles and police officers participated in a team-building ropes course.

Week 3—University of Maryland Shock Trauma: Juveniles and police officers met with medical professionals from the University of Maryland to learn about career development.

Week 4—Bereavement Center: Juveniles and police officers met with family members who had lost loved ones to incidents of street violence.

Week 5—Police Orientation: Juveniles visited police headquarters and learned about policing careers.

Week 6— Boys of Baraka: Juveniles and police officers had a private showing of the award winning film “Boys of Baraka.”

Week 7—Graduation: The graduation also included placement into Baltimore Youth Opportunity Center for job skill training and educational development.

Did It Work?

The Community Safe Zone Project was most effective when used as a violence prevention strategy. Police selected neighborhoods based on immediate patterns of violence. In 2005 police deployed the Community Safe Zone Project in five distressed neighborhoods experiencing significant patterns of violence. In each of these neighborhoods the Community Safe Zone Project was the catalyst that disrupted the pattern of violence and provided stability.

A statistical analysis of significant violent crime has shown that after implementation, homicide and shooting incidents over a six month period decreased by 86 percent in comparison to the prior six month period. This analysis indicates that the stability within the targeted neighborhood continued well after the implementation of the four weeks Community Safe Zone Project. This continued stability is a direct reflection of the quality of improvements and relationships developed during the implementation of Community Safe Zone Project.

In conclusion, the Community Safe Zone Project has proven to be a reliable and holistic policing strategy that prevents drug related violence, restores community stability and promotes police community relations in distressed neighborhoods. Based on the success in the Western District, in 2006 the Baltimore Police Department implemented the Community Safe Zone Project as a citywide strategy. Through the coordination and cooperation of police officers, residents, city workers, and the coalition of resources the Community Safe Zone Project is a strong testament to the ability to establish dynamic change in violent distressed neighborhoods.


From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 12, December 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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