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Ricardo A. Morales

Sarita Hill Coletrane

Harold Shreves

Jeffrey Butterworth

Aaron M. Stutz




Strategy: Empowering Public Housing Residents to Reclaim Their Neighborhoods

Strategy Residents help law enforcement agencies reduce drug activity and maintain security by reporting illegal activity to authorities, forming . . .


Residents help law enforcement agencies reduce drug activity and maintain security by reporting illegal activity to authorities, forming neighborhood patrols, and screening visitors to their buildings. Such crime reduction efforts save money and improve the quality of life.

Drug Problem Addressed

Public housing and surrounding areas often have serious drug problems and accompanying crime and violence.

Key component

Special uniformed narcotics teams can purge public housing of drug activity, restore law and order, and educate citizens in tenant responsibility, crime and drug prevention, and basic security measures. Some public housing residents follow up the work of special law enforcement teams and take back their homes, parks, and play areas from drug dealers and users. They walk hallways and public spaces, report to police or housing authorities on building conditions and criminal activity, and discourage vandalism and drug dealing with their frequent, visible presence. Some patrol members receive rent abatements in exchange for hours worked. Police officers train residents in crime observation and prevention and provide patrols with flashlights, whistles, walkie-talkies, jackets, and caps.

Key Partnerships

Successful narcotics sweep programs in public housing depend on cooperation among housing residents, management, the local municipal housing authority, and law enforcement agencies.

Potential Obstacles

Drug activity is often accompanied by serious crime and violence, causing public housing residents to fear retaliation by drug dealers. Community empowerment evolves from a complex learning process. Residents should learn about the legal process, housing codes, and ways to use demographic data on crime to identify and solve problems.

Signs of Success

In Chicago, Operation Clean Sweep and resulting resident patrols controlled drug activity in at least sixty buildings. Authorities report that drug dealers have moved out of the buildings, there is less fear of crime, and residents have taken more responsibility for their own security in their buildings. In addition, vandalism and vacancy rates have declined. Narcotics enforcement in Denver public housing has reduced drug use, theft of personal property, and residents' fear of crime.

Applying the Strategy

Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority, in Newport News, Virginia, worked with residents in five of the area's ten public housing communities to organize a successful residential foot patrol. Residents received eight hours of in-class training on crime and safety and were provided with the necessary tools (hard hats, flashlights, etc.) to initiate a safety patrol in their neighborhoods. According to police reports, crime has decreased significantly, residents' sense of ease has increased, and there is more participation among all ages in outdoor leisure activities.

In 1992 the Bronx, New York, housing authority implemented a "Model Buildings" program in the Patterson Houses development. The program entailed a major anti-vandalism and -graffiti project designed with a gain-sharing component that put money saved back into the housing units. Tenant volunteers and housing officials worked diligently to restore two buildings, each with more than a hundred housing units, in the eight-building housing development. They covered walls with anti-graffiti shields that allow easy removal of graffiti, installed hall mirrors to deter criminals from lurking, and replaced broken windows, locks, and doors. In addition, around-the-clock tenant patrols were set up at hall stations to monitor building visitors and sign them in and out. After two months, the program saved the housing authority an estimated $5,000 in vandalism control. The buildings have been free of graffiti and other vandalism for three years and crime has noticeably decreased.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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