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Back to Archives | Back to May 2005 Contents 

Community Programs - Operation Fresh Start

Russell J. Bono, Chief of Police, and Kevin McKeon, Lieutenant, Norristown, Pennsylvania, Police Department



n May 1998, Philadelphia’s 25th Police District set up barricades to block all entrances to a drug-infested North Philadelphia neighborhood some called the Badlands. Officers staffed the barricades to keep drug dealers out. From the small borough of Norristown, drug dealers and users would travel to the Badlands and buy illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, and transport them back to Norristown. Norristown officers who observed this operation thought that not only blocking the street but giving the entire street a facelift would grant the people a fresh start in their neighborhood and empower them to take their neighborhood back.

Norristown Borough, located just outside Philadelphia, covers 3.69 square miles and serves as the county seat for Montgomery County. The daytime population is more than 50,000, falling at nighttime to 32,069. The police department consists of 65 sworn officers.
The department responds to more than 65,000 calls for service yearly. Of the calls, 16,000 require written reports. In analyzing the calls for services, officers discovered that four blocks of Cherry Street was the source of a disproportionate number of calls. This area produced more complaints about drug dealing, shots fired, and disturbances than other areas. It had a high potential for violent crime. Given the high number of requests for service, a high crime rate, and a high rate of drug activity, police selected Cherry Street to be the site of the pilot for Operation Fresh Start.

Cherry Street

The goals for Operation Fresh Start on Cherry Street was to reduce the number of calls for service by half, to deter illegal drug activity, and to restore safety and improve the quality of life for the residents. In order to accomplish these goals, a total borough and community effort would be required. The police department could not do it alone, but the department could organize the effort.

Community Relations Unit: This unit distributed information and set up neighborhood meetings to obtain the support of Cherry Street residents.

Habitat for Humanity: This organization provided Dumpsters for trash and debris. The Dumpsters needed to be there on the first day and to be emptied every other day. The Dumpsters, available to residents at no charge, enabled the neighborhood to rid itself of the bulk trash items that are so often thrown in the alleys or back yards. Residents could now clean out their basements and dispose of yard trash. The availability of the dumpsters may appear minor, but it is important; persons with limited incomes are not spending their money on having trash hauled away.

Habitat for Humanity also helped paint address numbers on the residences, replace outdoor porch light bulbs, remove graffiti, and clean up common areas and sidewalks. In addition, Habitat for Humanity provided refreshments for the working volunteers.
Towing Company: A towing company removed vehicles identified by traffic officers as being in violation of the vehicle code or posing a health hazard.

Religious Committee for Community Justice: Members of the Religious Committee for Community Justice (RCCJ) became a part of Fresh Start and helped police in several ways. Standing alongside the police officers, RCCJ staffed the street barricades to make clear to everyone that the operation was a community effort and not strictly a police action. RCCJ also acted as a neutral liaison between the community and the police regarding any concerns. Norristown’s RCCJ addresses social and economic concerns of neighborhoods with an emphasis on crime, housing, occupation, and voter registration. Operation Fresh Start was an ideal program for RCCJ participation.

Montgomery County District Attorney’s Prisoner Community Service Program: Persons who were required to do community services became a part of the cleanup crew, cutting weeds, pruning trees, and picking up trash.

Norristown Public Works: The borough’s public works would repair the street, repair traffic control devices, and increase the street lighting from 4,000 watts to 25,000 watts to promote safety.
Norristown Code Enforcement: The borough’s code enforcement department inspected the neighborhood for code violations. They identified rental properties and their owners and issued citations for code violations. Absentee landowners were being required to keep their properties in compliance with the borough’s code. Residents who owned their homes would receive written recommendation on how to bring their houses up to code.

Animal Control: Like the people living on Cherry Street, the animals also faced difficulties. Many had become stray animals; others were sick and malnourished. Some residents were cited for failing to care properly for pets.

Fire Department: The fire marshal and the fire department participated in Fresh Start by inspecting and repairing fire hydrants and providing smoke detectors for residents.

News Media: The local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and local television news stations publicized the operation to increase community awareness.

Eight Operation Fresh Starts

Since the first Fresh Start on Cherry Street, the Borough of Norristown has implemented similar programs on seven other streets. The citizens of Norristown are the stakeholders in this program and they are regaining their streets and improving their quality of life. The Norristown Police Department is proud that it was the agent of change for the residents.


For more information, write to Lieutenant Kevin McKeon, Norristown Police Department, 235 East Airy Street, Norristown, PA 19401; call him at 610-270-0481; or send an e-mail message to him at kmckeon@norristown.org



 

From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 5, May 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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