Magazine article Public Management

Policing Distressed Public Housing Developments

Magazine article Public Management

Policing Distressed Public Housing Developments

Article excerpt

Community Policing Could Be The Answer

This article will not focus on a specific local government or department attempting to implement community policing. According to training experience at ICMA and to ongoing research, law enforcement agencies serving metropolitan areas still are trying to find their community policing sea legs. These local governments also have public housing stock. To my knowledge, no major police department has translated the community policing concept into action departmentwide. The institutionalization of community policing still is on the horizon, and its impact on the troubled public housing community is largely unknown. Signs and observations, however, have led me to believe that when community policing is properly implemented, it is about the only solution that will work in areas of distressed public housing.

Many people associate public housing with crime, violence, and hopelessness. Visions of broken windows, graffiti, run-down apartments, rats, and roaches are burned into our subconscious. In reality, public housing of this type represents only a small fraction of the stock. For the most part, public housing residents are law-abiding, and their homes are clean, safe, and affordable. In severely distressed areas where public housing appears to fit the stereotype, however, the seeds of urban disorder (crime, violence, and substance abuse) are deeply planted in the fertile ground of social and economic neglect, despair, and spiritual deprivation.

Public Safety and Housing

Public housing residents are survivors; victims and victimizers frequently are related by family bond or statistical group. The Department of Justice's 1991 criminal victimization data highlight what residents living in high-crime neighborhoods of public housing already know. Nonwhites are likelier than whites to be victims of violent crime; persons under 25 have the highest victimization rates; and those living in households in the lowest income category are likelier to be violent crime victims than persons from households in the higher income brackets. Victimization statistics define the plight of many inner-city public housing residents. These sobering statistics provide an important backdrop for a difficult problem for policing distressed public housing--the epidemic of black-on-black homicide.

Where is severely distressed public housing to be found? According to many residents, it exists where violence rules the streets although the police do patrol. A 1992 report published by the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing defines this kind of housing as dwellings in which "social, physical, and environmental conditions have deteriorated to a degree that renders the housing dangerous to the health and safety of residents." This definition also identifies fertile ground for urban civil disorder.

While there is little disagreement that since the mid-1970s, victimization rates for public housing residents living in. distressed areas have increased, Public Housing Authority (PHA) budgets for resident protection have not increased significantly. A 1992 report published by the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities--Security, Crime and Drugs in Public-Housing--indicates that of 38 large and small PHAs surveyed, security service expenditures (1975-1990) did not keep up with the crime problem.

Statistics compiled by the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA) for the same period indicate that the proliferation and use of drugs in the United States contributed to increases in violent and petty crime in public housing. CLPHA warns that such public housing issues as vacancies, the need for modernization, economic development, and resident empowerment can not be addressed without dealing with the drug problem. Moreover, public housing problems are no longer confined to selected inner-city developments or areas. During the last 10 years, public housing residents have begun moving from centralized developments to scattered sites and private-sector properties, commonly referred to as Section 8 housing. …

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