By John Douglass and Allan L. Sneller
Chief of Police and Major, respectively,
Overland Park Police Department, Overland Park, Kansas
verland Park, Kansas, takes pride in being one of the more attractive places to live, work, and raise a family. Overland Park is the second-largest city in Kansas; its population is 163,319. Due to the many business and corporate office centers in the city, the average daytime workforce totals more than 300,000. Overland Park encompasses 56.8 square miles and has a population density of 2,624 per square mile.
Overland Park has received a triple-A bond rating and ranks 25th in the nation in per capita retail sales among 239 cities with populations of at least 100,000. More than 40 percent of the residents of Overland Park hold at least a bachelor’s degree.In 2001 Business Development Outlook rated Overland Park as “one of the top 10 business cities” in the United States and cited Overland Park as “second-best city in America” to live in. The magazine Applied Geographic Solutions cited Overland Park as the second-smartest city in America. In 2001 the Ladies’ Home Journal rated Overland Park as one of the “top 10 cities for women in America.”
The police department works hard to help Overland Park maintain its high ratings as a place to live, work, and raise a family.
Summer 2004 Brings Attention to Crime Hotspot
The police department staff meets on a regular basis to discuss specific crime problems and trends and to devise strategies and methods to resolve these issues. In the summer of 2004, police noticed an unusually high number of calls for service and crime coming from an area of roughly six square city blocks. The center point was the street intersection at 79th and Grant.
A statistical analysis of the area showed that calls for service in this area had taken a sharp upturn in recent months, creating an unusually large draw of police resources to deal with the problems. For statistical tracking and identification purposes, the city is divided into 290 towncodes. The six towncodes where the calls for service originated, 17, 18, 22, 23, 27, and 28, were drawing almost 10 percent of the daily available police resources and calls for service.
A special meeting was called to address the problems in this area. Those present at the initial meeting were members of various police divisions: patrol, investigation, traffic, school resource officers, community policing officers, crime analysis, and criminal intelligence. Participants in the meeting agreed to determine the root causes of the problem and develop plans to resolve them. The project took on the name of the 79th and Grant Revitalization Project.
The Goal: Reduce Calls for Service by 25 Percent in One Year
The specific goal of reducing the calls for service and crime in the area by 25 percent in a year was established. The planners listed specific areas of concern and the methods for addressing these concerns:
• Identification of specific addresses where known or suspected gang members lived
• Identifying known or suspected criminals with a propensity toward crimes against persons and theft
• Develop a specific crime map of the six town codes in question and pinpoint the location of specific crimes in that area
• Aggressively address known or suspected prostitution activity
• Address code violations of residences,apartments, fences, and outbuildings
• Remove illegally parked and abandoned vehicles
• Conduct selected traffic enforcement to catch speeding motorists on streets adjacent to Commanche Elementary School, intoxicated drivers and pedestrians, and tag violations, and reduce collisions at intersections that had a high incidence of crashes
• Aggressively focus on drug-related issues
• Concentrate efforts in Comanche Park, which borders the elementary school, for people committing sexual and other crimes in the park
• Address violations of noise and nuisance ordinances as well as civil problems between neighbors and residents in the area
• Reduce motorcycle and auto thefts as well as auto burglaries
• Target for arrest known criminals living in the area with outstanding warrants
Once the goal and objectives were identified, the planners fixed responsibility and made assignments and developed a city-wide agency effort.
Police Launch a Multipronged Effort
Police came at the problem from several angles. The criminal intelligence division provided information about known criminals and criminal activity in that area. The school resource officer assigned to the school in the area provides information about young people who were involved in criminal activity. The investigations division supplied information about open and past investigations of suspects in the area. The community policing officers provided information about individuals living in apartment communities or rental properties who had been involved in recent or ongoing criminal activity. The traffic unit stepped up its enforcement of traffic laws and parking rules in the area. The patrol division increased patrols of the area and confronted persons suspected of involvement in criminal activity in and around the target area.
To help address the root causes of crime in the area, police asked other city and county agencies for help. The city’s code enforcement officers, for instance, identified and enforced code violations concerning properties, fences, and buildings that had fallen to an unacceptable level. The fire department came in to deal with occupancy issues and fire code violations.
The scope of this project, which involved groups and individuals from all over the city, generated the need to establish a central repository of information. The information technology group set about formulating a directory that was accessible to everyone in the citywide computer network. Any project participant who had rights to participate could read the latest information and could add information about arrests, suspects, code enforcement actions, cleanup activities, criminal intelligence, and crime trends for the area.
Involving the Residents
An important component of this project was the citizens’ involvement. It was important for the residents to know that the city was aware of the problems in their neighborhood and that the city was committed to addressing the issues. The city council members representing the area joined in the discussions to ensure that they could participate and give guidance to their constituents. One of the first actions was the organization of a series of neighborhood meetings for the residents and landlords to inform them of the city’s planned course of action, solicit the residents’ ideas, and address any questions or concerns that they may have.
One of the first meetings was with the landlords of rental properties in the area to discuss the building code violations that had been noted by city codes officers and to discuss tenant issues. A surprisingly large turnout of landlords attended this meeting and impressed police with their positive attitudes and comments. The landlords responded positively when the code inspectors and fire department officials offered photographic evidence of violations and neglect at rental properties. Participants endorsed the broken-windows theory [footnote 1] and discussed specific city ordinances governing parking, trash, noise, nuisances, animal complaints, rental property repair and upkeep, eviction procedures, and the rights of renters.
Several days after the meeting with the landlords, a meeting was held with all residents of the 79th and Grant neighborhood. There was an overwhelming turnout of concerned citizens who were clearly committed to resolving the problems in their neighborhood. This meeting also provided additional information for the investigation and criminal intelligence units. The people who live and work in the area could provide names, addresses, and specific criminal activity that the police had not known about prior to this meeting.
In addition to the routine calls for service in the 79th and Grant area, the police department dedicated two units of two officers each to the area during each shift in order to address specific crime problems. Armed with information—names, addresses, and crimes—the officers were soon making arrests and compiling contact information for other suspects.
The investigation division provided extra attention to the area and expedited pending criminal cases and arrest warrants for suspects of interest residing in the area. The community policing officers worked diligently with the apartment community managers to promote crime-free multiunit housing strategies. City code inspectors worked with residents and landlords to clean up, repair, and restore their properties to acceptable levels. The school resource officers involved the students of Comanche Elementary School in safety classes and education initiatives. Members of the city’s parks and recreation agency repaired and painted broken equipment and facilities in Comanche Park. The traffic unit made numerous traffic contacts and arrested violators.
An important component of any long-term project is to keep the momentum of the project going. Police understood that the revitalization of the area around 79th and Grant would need to be maintained for at least a year in order to demonstrate tangible results. To that end, the project managers met weekly to design strategies, check progress, provide midcourse corrections, and compare information. After three months they met every other week, and after nine months they met monthly.
A Neighborhood Improves
Much progress has been made to improve the area around 79th and Grant. The area has been improved aesthetically and criminal activity there has declined steadily. Twenty months after the revitalization project started, police statistics showed a steady decline in both incidents of crime and calls for service in the 79th and Grant area. Crime incidents of all types have decreased 38 percent in the area. In August 2004, when the 79th and Grant project was initiated, the police department was responding to 110 calls for service per month in the six towncodes. By March 2006, monthly calls for service in those towncodes have been reduced to 68.
It is the opinion of the staff of the Overland Park Police Department that the combined efforts of police department resources and other city and county departments helped make the 79th and Grant Revitalization Project a success. The quality of life in this area has shown a dramatic improvement. Apartment communities and residences have been cleaned up, repaired, and painted. Neighborhood children are enjoying the park and open areas again, and the threat of criminal activity to area residents has diminished.