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New Efforts To Involve Communities In Attacking Crime Hot Spots

More than two dozen people sat around a conference table in the working-class city of Newark, poring over crime statistics and pondering how to bring the numbers down. Most weren’t police officers, and the focus wasn’t on making more arrests. The Newark Public Safety Collaborative, spearheaded by academics and including social-service agencies, hospitals, schools, police and the city, talked about installing streetlights and figuring out why bodegas are magnets for crime. Joel Caplan, a professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University Newark, helped pioneer some ideas behind the effort. Newark, a city of 307,000, has worked to overhaul its police since a 2014 Justice Department report found widespread abuses. If police are the only ones looking at crime data, he said, they propose police solutions. When the community sees the data, “responses are much more comprehensive and multifaceted." Newark, Dallas and other cities are experimenting with anticrime approaches that involve sharing information with community groups and asking them to help craft solutions. The focus is on changing the environment that helps fuel crime hot spots, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“We’re not going to arrest our way into safer cities,” said Edgardo “Eddie” Garcia, the head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and chief of police in Dallas. The approach is an alternative to creating police strike teams to flood crime-ridden areas with officers—a tactic that was generating growing opposition, even before such a unit played a role in the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month. In Newark, researchers found that high percentages of violent crime occur within two blocks of bodega locations. Most of these at-risk bodegas are in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh foods, known as food deserts, which may be a factor for increased crime rates, according to the researchers. From the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police brutality in recent decades has led to reform efforts, many of which called for including the community and many of which ultimately sputtered out. Proponents of Newark’s approach, funded by a $3 million Justice Department grant, two local foundations and Rutgers, say it is relatively new and will have to show a strong track record to continue. “There’s a lot of federal dollars that is paying for this to happen. So the challenge will be, as we learn how these programs are working, whether these changes become more institutionalized,” said Alejandro Giménez-Santana, a Rutgers assistant professor and director of the public-safety collaborative.

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