There has been a lot of publicity in The Baltimore Sun and other media about the challenges of stemming the tide of violence that continues to sweep across our city (“Davis says special deployments helped stall violence — and showed need for more officers on Baltimore’s streets,” June 19). A lot of solutions have been suggested — improving police-citizen trust and interaction, putting more police officers on the streets, continuing the Safe Streets and Operation Ceasefire initiatives, expanding access to jobs through the city’s Office of Employment Network, engaging youth in summer life and employment, recreation, and community service programs and the list goes on.
As good as these and other proposed solutions may be toward putting the brakes on our present crime wave, there has been surprisingly little discussion about the roles Baltimore’s 300 or so neighborhood associations could play in helping reduce crime. Neighborhood associations and the citizens they represent are really the city’s first line of defense against criminal activities. Serving as eyes and ears on the block and street, association members, with proper training and support of their Crime Watch networks, could be very effective in working in close coordination with the police to watch over their neighborhoods and report suspicious activities.
But to be successful, the leaders of these associations and their members need to be trained on how best to keep their neighborhoods secure. Fortunately there are three excellent programs in Baltimore where such training is available. The Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program is a first-rate training initiative that helps citizens to become first responders until the city’s professional responders can arrive. In the two-day training program, citizens learn about basic and psychological first aid, how to recognize and deal with a range of threats to safety in the neighborhood and how to provide comfort to victims traumatized by such events. Every neighborhood should have a CERT team.
The Community Law Center is great resource, not only on how to effectively lead a neighborhood association, but also how to deal with nuisance liquor stores and bars and other properties such as residences where illicit activities are conducted.
The third excellent resource is the Baltimore City Police Department’s Citizens Academy Program. This 12-week, 42-hour course is useful for all citizens of the city, but especially for neighborhood association leaders.The course emphasizes collaboration between police and the neighborhoods where they serve and includes such topics as gang activity, use of force and de-escalation tactics, crime scene forensics, how to effectively use the 911 system and the new app to report crimes, the scope of the U.S. Department of Justice’s consent decree and how citizens can get involved in its implementation, among many other topics.
Working from an inside-out perspective which is neighborhood-driven rather than by an outside-in approach by entities external to the neighborhood, a strong network of capable neighborhood associations allied together with the police will go a long way in helping to reduce criminal activities. Neighbors will know how to effectively observe and report suspicious activities using new technology, how to minimize the chances of becoming a victim, as well as how to support those traumatized by crime. And there will be greater sense of security and reduction of fear that plagues so many neighborhoods.
Strong, informed, and active neighborhood associations working in partnership with city leaders and other public/private/educational actors in a coordinated, focused approach could reduce crime and transform Baltimore into a truly livable 21st century city.
Jack K. Boyson, Baltimore
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