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Safe at home

Project takes aim at shootings in Dallas County






Elmer Polk estimates that 500 people have been spared from serious gun-related crimes—murder, rape, robbery, aggravated battery—thanks to four years of Project Safe Neighborhood in two high-crime Dallas County areas.

Dr. Polk, a UT Arlington associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, along with Sherman Wyman and Bob Wilkins of the School of Urban and Public Affairs assessed the progress of various PSN initiatives. They determined that from October 2002 to September 2006, PSN caused a 13.6 percent drop in reported gun-related crimes.

When PSN officials approached the trio to be a research partner, UT Arlington joined an elite multi-agency team including the Dallas Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the Dallas Independent School District.

“It was encouraging that they [the PSN advisory board] were looking to UT Arlington for evaluation support,” said Dr. Wyman, a SUPA professor and director of the Center for Economic Development Research and Service.

In addition to the evaluation duties, the researchers assisted with strategic planning and helped select the target areas—neighborhoods that were known trouble spots.

Portions of Fair Park in South Dallas and Pleasant Grove in Southeast Dallas were chosen for their high frequency of violent crimes in the two years leading up to the project. These areas are known as “weed and seed neighborhoods” because they have undergone unsuccessful initiatives to weed out criminals and then seed initiatives to lower crime.

The agencies set scores of interventions in motion. They brought in more prosecutors to deal with gun crimes. They established additional police patrols around elementary schools to deter firearms. They created youth basketball programs with the goal of producing kids who are too active to get in trouble.

“One of the most effective [initiatives] was the program with parolees to orient them to the consequences of mischief when they were again on the streets,” Wyman said.

Once a month, the local prosecutor’s office, the DPD, the Dallas Adult Probation Department and the Dallas Juvenile Probation Department hosted a PSN new parolee and probationer offender orientation for criminals who had recently been released.

The results were impressive: By the end of the project, the number of gun crimes committed by adult parolees in Dallas County had plummeted 47 percent.

“A lot of times, criminal justice interventions aren’t even concerned with reducing crime, only with stopping the increase,” Polk said. “The fact that this program reduced crime by nearly half made it the best independently measured intervention.”

“A lot of times, criminal justice interventions aren’t even concerned with reducing crime, only with stopping the increase. The fact that this program reduced crime by nearly half made it the best independently measured intervention.”
- criminology and criminal justice Associate Professor Elmer Polk

Polk attributes the success of the orientation, as well as the other programs, to “the harmony of multi-agency tasking.” In addition to evaluating the success of the neighborhood initiatives, PSN also asked the UT Arlington research team to evaluate the progress, efficiency and group cohesion of the agencies involved with the project.

Representatives from each agency of the PSN team met quarterly, and Polk found the meshing of ideas fascinating.

“They [PSN] have been amazingly effective at pulling together a true community team of governmental and nongovernmental agencies and have indeed done something about reducing crime in those neighborhoods,” he said. “I have been doing this [criminal justice] for 30 years, and I have never seen any team anywhere any more effective at doing it.”

So effective, in fact, that expansion is being considered into a six-city anti-gang initiative that would include Fort Worth. The focus would broaden to combat several types of gang-related crimes.

Polk, Wyman and Wilkins say they will contribute their evaluations and research skills once again in hopes that even more people can avoid becoming victims of violent crime.

Online: www.uta.edu/supa/psn

— Camille Rogers

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