By Kenny L. Smith, Chief of Police, Morrow, Georgia
or years, the nationally recognized Neighborhood Watch program provided Morrow's residents with knowledge of crime prevention techniques. Sadly, the program was not maintaining its initial enthusiasm; neighborhoods were no longer holding meetings, which is where residents had been learning about crime prevention and getting to know their neighbors. Morrow police officers wanted to create a program that would cover crime prevention and also teach residents the importance of maintaining their property value, improving quality of life in a community, and knowing one another's neighbors. The officers also wanted the residents to know them.
Police considered the following factors when assessing the problem:
- The city has a residential population of 4,882.
- Roughly 60,00 to 80,00 visitors a day come to the mall's hundreds of retail outlets, entertainment areas, restaurants, and theaters.
- Community members come from a wide array of cultural and economic backgrounds.
- There were prejudice and intolerance obstacles to overcome.
- Many residents were unclear about city code enforcement.
The code enforcement situation is a good example to demonstrate the problems facing the city. Property owners in the city treated the city's code enforcement officers and many police officers with disrespect when the officers would issue citations to residents who were not cutting their grass or maintaining their property. The residents did not understand the role code enforcement has in reducing crime and keeping a community clean so property value will not diminish.
Police officers, city employees, and members of the community spent several months planning a program to overcome these obstacles and to motivate the neighborhoods to work with the local government and each other to improve the qualify of life in Morrow. The end result was Proud, a program that focuses on crime prevention and community ownership. Police still promote the crime prevention ideas behind Neighborhood Watch, but the program goes beyond just crime prevention to include quality-of-life issues.
Proud is an acronym that identifies the major concepts of the program:
Protected is the way the program is designed to make community members feel by encouraging them to get out and meet their neighbors and the members of the police and fire departments. It also encourages the community to protect their homes from crime by paying attention to environmental design, by being alert to suspicious activity in their neighborhood, and by protecting their property value by maintaining the appearance and condition of their homes.
Respected is what the community becomes when it works to combat crime and maintain the entire community, not just an individual's home.
Organized is what the community becomes with this program, which teaches residents that not just one person or one household can defend a neighborhood against crime.
Unified goes along with organized. Once the community members experience success working together, the residents will unify. With the Proud program, residents of housing subdivisions are encouraged to unify.
Desirable is what the city will become.
The key elements for implementing the program were the following:
- One or more police officers and firefighters serve as agency liaison to a neighborhood.
- Liaisons set up and attend neighborhood meetings.
- Officers offer a program on the importance of code enforcement.
- Officers and neighbors set a date for the neighborhood's first cleanup, and city employees help.
- Officers and residents repaint street numbers on the curbs after the cleanup.
- Residents install a Proud Morrow Neighborhood sign at the entrance to the neighborhood.
- Residents sustain the beautification program and continue to get to know each other.
- The police department sends newsletters and holds neighborhood meetings.
- Officers train residents to recognize and report suspicious activity and to take steps to prevent victimization.
Morrow's experience has been that once a neighborhood is organized the residents plan creative and effective activities. One neighborhood held a dessert-making contest, another had a barbecue and a watermelon seed-spitting contest, and others have held programs on identity theft, personal safety, the proper use of 911, smoke detector safety, and traffic safety.
One resident is a local hero because of Proud. While in-line skating one afternoon, the resident noticed a man in the neighborhood he did not know. Minutes later, the same man appeared carrying a grocery bag with something box-like in it. The man explained he had borrowed his cousin's VCR. The resident almost did nothing, but after second thought called the police. With the resident's information the man was caught trying to pawn the VCR. Police discovered that the man had slipped into an open window and stolen a VCR from a neighbor's home.
Proud is not an expensive program. It does not require a fully operational budget, and many city employees volunteer their time. The largest expense is for the signs and subdivision markers that are placed in the neighborhoods.
Feedback shows that officers are making a difference. Sometimes a small pat on the back or a kind comment can renew resolve to continue making a difference. ■