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Back to Archives | Back to July 2006 Contents 

Adopting Neighborhoods to Prevent Crime

By Michael W. Martin, Captain, and Douglas L. Davis, Chief of Police, Waynesboro, Virginia

ity, Citizens, and Law Enforcement Adopting Neighborhoods (CLEAN) is a concept that builds an effective, comprehensive approach to identifying, addressing, and enhancing quality-of-life issues. Developed by the Waynesboro Police Department, the CLEAN project focuses on crime prevention by shaping the city environment through the creation of partnerships in the city government, the police department and the residents of the city.

The CLEAN project started as a law enforcement initiative to bring multiple police department assets to bear on specific problem areas in the city. The original enforcement teams consisted of assets from the various units, including parking enforcement, animal control, patrol, investigations, narcotics enforcement, K9, and crime prevention. The teams walk neighborhoods addressing various code violations that affect the overall living environment of the citizens and each team performs an environmental survey of the perceived living conditions in the area through citizen interviews. During the initial operations, residents of the affected areas were supportive of the program but often raised issues outside the scope and authority of law enforcement.

In order to respond to issues outside of the scope of the police department, the department is partnering with various city offices, community services and citizens increasing the level of service being provided during the CLEAN Team operations. A city representative from the city's inspections department is part of the team to identify and rectify health and sanitation code violations. The city's inspections department also begins the notification process necessary to have citizens clean up any violations on their property. A public works representative is on the team to inspect the city infrastructure of sidewalks, alleys, streets, streetlights, and signs. Public works can address the infrastructure problems. A fire department representative handles fire code enforcement, hazmat, and business property safety code violations. The office on youth provides support by having juvenile volunteers help elderly and handicapped residents clean their property. Of course the citizens themselves participated in each event, whether informally by just talking with the officers and providing feedback or formally through established organizations such as Neighborhood Watch or the Waynesboro Beautification Committee.

The CLEAN project evolved into an extremely effective partnership that significantly affects the quality of life in the affected areas of the city. For example, after a shooting at an apartment complex well known for drug activity, the CLEAN team chose the building for an assessment. At that time, team members identified eight abandoned or inoperable vehicles (most of them were there for several years and covered in gang graffiti) and identified a noticeable code violation for excessive trash and waste on the property. The department contacted the property manager and all the inoperable vehicles were subsequently towed from the property. Much of the trash was also removed, significantly improving the appearance of the building. In the months after this cleanup, there was a noticeable reduction in calls for service in this area, and many officers noted that the gang activity and overall loitering in that area had ceased. This simple example supports the undeniable relationship between environmental quality and the crime rate. The residents of this complex, when interviewed after the operation during a television media event, said they felt much safer after the area was cleaned up and they greatly appreciated the attention that the city directed to the problem. An interesting byproduct of the operation was that several sources of information were developed that supported ongoing criminal investigations, particularly concerning narcotics trafficking.

The CLEAN Team activities also help police managers determine how, when, and where to deploy officers and equipment. One way they help is by passing citizen concerns directly with officers. Officers learned in many instances that the average citizen was not concerned with drug trafficking or any of the more serious crimes but complained instead about noise violations (in the form of loud music from vehicles), drinking in public, loitering, and abandoned vehicles. The initial citizen contacts proved that these four issues were what the citizens perceived as the most common threats to peace and order. Equipped with this information, police administrators are better prepared to make strategic decisions about officer deployment than they would be without citizen input.

The crucial point leading to the successful development, and the continued evolution, of the CLEAN concept was community cooperation. The key to developing a similar program is identifying which city resource has enforcement authority in the respective problem area, and then building a team that can affect the problem from multiple angles. The city must make a concerted effort that spans all departments and focuses various city resources in a unified manner to leverage a broad spectrum of enforcement authority against the problem.

Finally, it must be noted that one of the most important facets, if not the most important facet, of the program is that it provides a path of communication that average citizens can use to voice their concerns about quality-of-life issues. The CLEAN concept brings city resources and answers to their front door and actively solicits their input. The result is that the citizen is provided with a sense of ownership of their environment, and the realization that the city government cares about their concerns. ■

For more information about CLEAN and other important crime prevention initiatives by the Waynesboro Police Department, please call Captain Martin at 540-942-6545.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 7, July 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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