2: Empowering Communities To Address Crime

During the 1990s, the Administration has worked to implement community-based programs in cities and towns across the country - in rural areas from Houlton, Maine to Barrow, Alaska, and in urban areas from San Diego, California to Miami, Florida. The federal approach recognizes that although crime is a national problem, it is more immediately a community problem that requires action at the grassroots, neighborhood level. Community justice calls on all the public and private resources of a neighborhood to work closely with those traditionally associated with criminal justice matters.

The centerpiece of this strategy has been community policing, which deploys officers to neighborhood beats so they can form problem-solving partnerships with residents. Since 1994, the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has funded more than 100,000 new community police officers in local departments.

OJP has worked to build on the community partnerships first developed through community policing, and expand them throughout the justice system as a whole. Throughout the 1990s, OJP encouraged the development of systemwide strategies such as the Weed and Seed program, in which federal and local prosecutors and law enforcement work together to "weed" violence and drug dealing from a specific geographic area, and work with government and private housing, employment, and social service agencies to "seed" an area with jobs, livable housing, and opportunities for youth.

Recent OJP initiatives have expanded the community justice movement to encompass the court system and corrections. Community courts consolidate functions of civil, family, and misdemeanor criminal courts under a single authority, allowing a single judge to make decisions that consider all aspects of a case. These courts concentrate a variety of community services under one roof, including job training, victim assistance, drug treatment, and domestic violence counseling. These courts seek to address the causes, and not just symptoms, of disorder.

In FY 1999, OJP again expanded the definition of community justice. Under the leadership of Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, OJP is supporting the development of community prosecution programs in local district attorney's offices nationwide. Community prosecution adopts the community policing model by assigning prosecutors to neighborhoods, where they can see firsthand which offenses and offenders cause the most harm to the community so they can target prosecutions accordingly. OJP also worked with criminal justice, public health, and mental health professionals to improve the response of the justice system to persons with mental health disorders. And OJP took steps to address the most pressing problem facing many communities - gun violence - by publishing Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence, a report on innovative approaches communities nationwide are taking to stop gun crime.


Recognizing the effectiveness of community policing in forming community partnerships and solving problems, prosecutors have realized the important role of their offices in complementing the role of the police. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, which is responsible for prosecuting federal and local crimes in the nation's capital, began a pilot program in 1996 to form teams of prosecutors and community outreach specialists that focus on crime in a specific police precinct. In August 1999, the program expanded citywide. In each of Washington, D.C.'s seven police districts, locally assigned Assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecute almost all major cases arising in that district, from drug arrests or investigations to robberies, burglaries, and murder. The familiarity of each team with its district enables it to know of the persons responsible for the majority of the crime in that area. In addition to handling prosecutions, the teams reach out to the community within their assigned area. Prosecutors attend community meetings to discuss problems and issues confronting citizens, as well as to answer questions about the criminal justice system raised by residents.

A select group of experienced prosecutors has identified essential components of successful community prosecution strategies from across the country. An important factor is an emphasis on interagency collaboration in problem-solving and improving the quality of life in neighborhoods. This focus on quality-of-life issues can include, but is not limited to, nuisance abatement efforts, environmental crime enforcement, and the coordination of building, health, and other safety code enforcement. Potential partners for community prosecution strategies can include a local jurisdiction's licensing office, health and housing departments, school systems, and mental health agencies, as well as universities, law schools, pro bono bar associations, victim assistance organizations, and the faith community.

In FY 1999, BJA funded community prosecution projects in more than 40 cities to replicate the principles of the promising programs established in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. In March 1999, five grants were made totaling about $425,000 to establish community prosecution initiatives. In September 1999, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversaw the development of community prosecution in the District of Columbia when he served as U.S. Attorney there, announced community prosecution grants totaling more than $4.5 million to 36 urban, rural, and tribal communities. Denver, Colorado and Multnomah County, Oregon, both of which have already implemented successful community prosecution programs, received grants to serve as leadership sites, providing technical assistance to jurisdictions implementing new programs.


At any given time, more than 750,000 individuals in the justice system have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. A BJS study released in June 1999, Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers, found that about 16 percent of state and local inmates and probationers said they either had a mental condition or had stayed overnight in a mental hospital, unit or treatment program. Controlling for demographic differences, other studies have found rates of mental illness among incarcerated offenders to be at least double the comparable rates in the general population.

OJP has been working with government agencies at all levels, as well as with public interest advocacy groups, to improve the response of the justice system to persons with mental illness. Two conferences in the summer of 1999 highlighted the intersection between criminal justice and mental health, and led to recommendations and strategies on how the systems can work together to provide ensure public safety and provide mental health treatment for those in need.

In June 1999, the White House convened the first-ever Conference on Mental Health to explore ways of addressing the stigma and discrimination people with mental illness often endure. The conference brought together approximately 500 representatives of mental health services consumers and providers, advocacy groups, business leaders, public health, government agencies, and leaders in mental health research and pharmacology. The Attorney General chaired a session on mental health and the criminal justice system that addressed how and why people with mental disorders cycle in and out of jail with minimal or no treatment, often having committed minor offenses. The session focused on legislative proposals to address these issues, including a mental health court proposal being developed, and the prevalence of mental illness and services in correctional settings. OVC presented information on its partnership with NIJ to improve the quality of mental health services delivered to victims of crime and strengthen links between the victim assistance and mental health communities.

Following up on the White House conference, OJP and HHS' Center for Mental Health Services hosted a July 1999 conference on people with mental disorders in the justice system. This session brought together 250 participants from the criminal justice and social services fields. Topics included the challenges of integrating criminal justice and mental health systems, diverting mentally ill offenders to appropriate treatment through mental health court programs, improving mental health services in the juvenile justice system, and creating community partnerships to respond to the needs of people with mental disorders.

The BJS study, released at the time of the July conference, estimated that 283,800 mentally ill offenders were held in the nation's state and federal prisons and local jails at midyear 1998, and an additional 547,800 mentally ill people were on probation in the community. Other findings included:

To address the issues raised by people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, OJP is working with the Council of State Governments to develop recommendations for state and federal legislators on police training, diversion programs, assessment and treatment in correctional settings, and reentry. The Council of State Governments has formed a working group of state legislators, corrections administrators, judges, law enforcement officials, victim advocates, prosecutors, and mental health experts to assist in this process. The Justice Department and HHS also support the National GAINS Center for People with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Criminal Justice System, which collects and shares information on effective mental health and substance abuse services for people who come in contact with the justice system.


In April 1999, OJJDP published Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence, which profiles 60 community programs dedicated to reducing violent and gun crime. As its title suggests, the report is designed to provide law enforcement, state and local elected officials, prosecutors, judges, school administrators, community organizations, and other local stakeholders with the tools for fighting firearm violence in their communities. It includes a blueprint for communities to develop their own comprehensive, strategic violence reduction plan and a wealth of practical information on demonstrated and promising gun violence reduction strategies and programs. This "toolbox" approach is intended to provide inspiration and guidance as communities take action against violent crime and, in particular, gun violence. It also is intended to help communities learn from each other's successes. To promote and facilitate this exchange of ideas, contact information is provided for each of the programs profiled.

The report found that gun violence can be considered as a three-phase continuum comprising the illegal acquisition of firearms, the illegal possession and carrying of firearms, and the illegal, improper, or careless use of firearms. To be effective, any strategy to reduce gun violence must focus on one or more of these three points of intervention; however, a comprehensive plan will incorporate strategies and programs that focus on each of the three points of intervention.

The report categorized programs into five areas: comprehensive gun violence reduction strategies, strategies to interrupt sources of illegal guns, strategies to deter illegal gun possession and carrying, strategies to respond to illegal gun use, and education initiatives and alternative prevention strategies. Examples in each category include:

Promising Strategies provides information on federal and non-federal funding opportunities, training, and technical assistance for communities interested in replicating the programs described. It was distributed to all 93 U.S. Attorneys to help them fulfill the Attorney General's directive to develop comprehensive gun violence reduction strategies in their districts.


Although spending on criminal justice has seen a tremendous increase in the past decade, money alone will not improve/increase public safety . That is why OJP, with the support of Congress, has emphasized rigorous, external evaluation of its grant programs, to make sure that limited federal dollars are being spent to the best possible effect. Beginning with programs authorized by the 1994 Crime Act, OJP has been building evaluations into programs at the earliest planning stages, in addition to evaluating programs that have already been designed. OJP has also set aside a small percentage of many funding streams to assess how well that money is being used. Instead of making public policy by anecdote, OJP is committed to ensuring that federal funding programs are research-based and knowledge-based.

In addition to evaluation of its funding programs, OJP conducts research on critical issues in the criminal justice system, and collects statistics on crime and victims, criminal offenders, the justice system, and juvenile justice. Detailed information on OJP's research and statistical findings on national issues during FY 1999 is described elsewhere in this report, in the topic-specific chapters.

But even the best research on national crime problems and federal programs may be of little help to communities if this information fails to capture the particular problems they are addressing. To solve this problem, OJP has been working with communities to gather data on local crime and use ongoing research to guide local crime control strategies. The Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative (SACSI), launched in 1998, encourages communities to use information-driven approaches to fighting specific crime problems by forming partnerships with local researchers. NIJ's Crime Mapping Research Center promotes the research and development of crime mapping and geographic analysis in localities nationwide.

In FY 1999, NIJ continued to support SACSI and the crime mapping program, and launched a new initiative that combines features of both. COMPASS - Community Mapping, Planning, and Analysis for Safety Strategies - enables communities to use geographic information systems technology to plan comprehensive crime reduction programs. BJS, which has annually published national data on criminal victimization since 1973, completed the first effort in 20 years to gather data on victimization and citizen attitudes toward police at the city level.


In September 1999, NIJ announced that Seattle, Washington had been selected as the demonstration site for the COMPASS program and will receive up to $1 million in grants and in-kind assistance. COMPASS is a unique information-based initiative that will combine data such as employment statistics, land use data, hospital records, and arrest and victimization statistics, into a centralized database. COMPASS will apply Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to this database, which will allow public safety agencies to plot crime-related data against a map of a specified community or region. The GIS mapping capability will help analyze how the relationships among these community factors affect its overall well-being.

An interagency policy group, composed of a number of local officials, such as the mayor, chief of police, school superintendent, officials from social service agencies and others, will analyze the data and develop appropriate responses. Universities and local research institutes also will play a key role in COMPASS implementation, by collecting and analyzing information and helping design interventions that effectively respond to the community's crime problems. NIJ hopes to expand COMPASS to multiple sites in future fiscal years.

Community Crime Surveys

In response to requests from the law enforcement community for information on crime rates and the effectiveness of community policing in their neighborhoods, BJS and COPS funded surveys on criminal victimization and community policing in 12 cities in 1998.

In June 1998, BJS and COPS released the results of these surveys in a report titles, Criminal Victimization and Perceptions of Community Safety in 12 Cities, 1998. The surveys found that more than half of all respondents said they were familiar with the term "community policing," and 54 percent said that police officers practice community policing in their neighborhoods. Across the 12 cities, the percentage of residents who thought that their local police practiced community policing ranged from 42 percent in Knoxville to 67 percent in Chicago. Sixty percent of respondents indicated that in the past 12 months the police had worked at least "somewhat" with neighborhood residents on crime prevention and safety.

To support locally initiated citizen surveys in additional cities, BJS and COPS have developed a software survey package that can be used to collect information on criminal victimizations, citizen attitudes toward the police, their willingness to report crimes to the police, and the impact of community policing strategies on crime and neighborhood conditions. The software uses the questions asked of tens of thousands of households by BJS' National Crime Victimization Survey, which provides national and regional - but not state or local - data about crime, victims, and offenders. Localities can modify or augment these questions to suit local needs. The new materials will permit city and county law enforcement agencies to derive accurate estimates of local conditions that the national survey does not reveal.

Community surveys collect information about the most effective approaches to dealing with crime and provide an excellent measure of police performance. Using this software package, localities can more easily collect survey information on:

To supplement the free software package, BJS published Conducting Community Surveys: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement Agencies. As of June 2000, more than 650 local jurisdictions had requested copies of the crime survey software.

Community Justice Online

To promote information on community justice, OJP expanded its own Website in FY 1999 and supported other information-sharing programs. Building Blocks for Safe and Healthy Communities: An Ideas and Information Guide was launched in 1999 to consolidate information on employment, health, shelter, education, and public safety initiatives that help build safer and healthier communities in which to live and work. The Website, at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/tree, is graphically organized as a tree that reflects the stages in an individual's life - from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. The site also includes links to other Websites that highlight best practices in community building, including Websites of the National Crime Prevention Council, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Governors' Association, and National Association of Counties.

BJA is supporting the Community Justice Exchange, a project of the Center for Court Innovation to provide information and assistance to community planners throughout the country. The Website at www.communityjustice.org provides information on existing community justice projects, planning guidance, and an opportunity to communicate with other practitioners in the field.


Weed and Seed

Weed and Seed - the Department's flagship neighborhood-based program - is a community-based, multi-disciplinary approach to combating crime. The Weed and Seed program supports law enforcement initiatives to weed out drug dealing, gang activity, and violent offenders in a geographic area, and social services initiatives to seed that area with education and employment opportunities. Under the leadership of U.S. Attorneys, community officials, residents, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and schools come together to develop comprehensive crime control programs tailored to local needs.

In FY 1999, the Executive Office for Weed and Seed awarded a total of $49 million to Weed and Seed sites throughout the country, and expanded the program to 24 new sites, bringing the total number of officially recognized Weed and Seed sites to more than 200.

In July 1999, NIJ published National Evaluation of Weed and Seed: Cross-Site Analysis. The report found that, in six of the eight sites studied, serious violent crime declined more rapidly than in comparable areas due to Weed and Seed program efforts. The evaluation also found that Weed and Seed funding acted as a significant catalyst for general community revitalization efforts, and that most target area communities have undertaken programs and created beneficial community organizations that likely would not have come into existence without Weed and Seed.

In spring 1999, EOWS published the first issue of a new quarterly magazine, Weed and Seed Best Practices. Programs highlighted included:

In August 1999, in cooperation with Mayor Lee Brown, EOWS hosted the Weed and Seed 1999 national conference in Houston, Texas. More than 1,400 participants from 200 Weed and Seed sites across the country shared information on their experiences. A training session held in conjunction with the conference provided intensive instruction in strategic planning, community mobilization, crime mapping, using technology, and economic development. Attorney General Janet Reno presented the Millennium Community Award to two outstanding community leaders for their work in providing opportunities for residents to live, work, and raise children in a safe and clean environment.

Community Courts

Working through the Center for Court Innovation, the Center for Effective Public Policy, and the Justice Management Institute, BJA provides technical assistance to sites across the country that are developing community justice projects.

In FY 1999, BJA also awarded $1.3 million for new community courts in Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Palm Beach County, Florida; San Diego, California; and Portland, Oregon.

The BJA-funded Midtown Manhattan Community Court was established in 1993. In its first two and a half years, the court arraigned over 26,000 defendants. Nearly 75 percent of the offenders sentenced were ordered to perform community service and/or enroll in social services. During this period, more than 10,000 midtown community court participants completed community service producing over $430,000 worth of labor.

To highlight the importance of involving victims in the community justice process, OVC and BJA awarded $100,000 to the Fund for the City of New York to enable the Midtown Manhattan Community Court to conduct community impact panels. The panels bring offenders convicted of "quality of life crimes" such as vandalism together with community residents who describe the impact of the crimes on their lives. This offers residents and victims a chance to participate in the justice system in a meaningful way and also helps offenders better understand the consequences of their actions.

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