Dale Brown envisions a community where security doesn’t involve police officers and calls to 9-1-1 would be needless, even by the elderly and physically vulnerable.
Brown doesn’t live in a desert or small town where neighbors leave doors unlocked. He resides and works in Detroit where his Threat Management Center’s privately trained men and women have patrolled tough streets for 22 years. From providing VIP protection for luminaries like Sylvester Stallone and Rev. Jesse Jackson to offering free escorts to domestic violence victims during court dates, the team encounters a wide range of potential danger. Still, Brown says the organization he founded and developed is moving toward a system that eliminates the need for his licensed professionals to carry guns and keeps citizens from relying on badges for safety.
Threat Management Center’s program is part of a growing movement to empower residents in major cities by increasingly putting their security in their own hands. Using human resources, education, and modern technology, both professionals and volunteer advocates say they’ve reduced crime committed on their watch.
“The key to anything we hope to accomplish is education, so we have to have training,” Brown says. “There has to be knowledge. The more serious the subject, the more serious the training.”
Combining a mix of instruction in basic psychology, law and skill, Threat Management regularly trains block clubs, community groups and individuals of all ages on “Free Family Fridays” at its east side Detroit building at 6440 Wight. Self-defense techniques also are offered, along with special instruction for law enforcement in how to use non-lethal force.
“You’re taught how to deny the opportunity for criminal activity to occur,” Brown says.
One area of emphasis discusses what Threat Management Center calls “false positives,” assumptions about unknowns, such as strangers in the neighborhood, that lead to fear or panic. When approaching anyone thought to be suspicious the Center recommends recording the encounter using cell phone video, giving a polite, friendly introduction and identification, but using an alias, before offering to help the stranger.
“Criminals don’t want to talk to people,” Brown says. “They want to just walk around with anonymity.”
Brown says false positives can lead to tragedies, like the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, when George Zimmerman profiled Martin as a potential burglar because he didn’t know Martin was visiting the neighborhood. On the other hand, a resident who’s too intimidated to approach a stranger might put the community at risk by failing to investigate.
“Never use fear,” says Brown. “Never allow fear to enter your mind.”
Based in Grand Rapids, the West Grand Neighborhood Organization (WGNO) encourages a similar viewpoint. Representing about 16,000 residents in areas west of downtown, the agency educates seniors, families and all concerned citizens. Regular programs like “Coffee With a Cop” and “Coffee With a Captain” bring law enforcement and neighbors to local cafés to exchange thoughts and concerns, but WGNO encourages citizens to take ownership of their streets.
Chi Benedict, WGNO crime prevention organizer, uses resources like crimemapping.com to help inform residents about how to best protect themselves and their property. Crimemapping.com is a national web tracker that records and categorizes incidents according to the type of offense, zip code, neighborhood, and dates of occurrence.
“I look for the trends in my specific neighborhoods to see what goes down where,” says Benedict.
WGNO communities mainly experience property crimes, like theft from cars and vandalism. A key to making technological resources like crimemapping.com effective, and to directly improving neighborhoods, is simple incident reporting, Benedict says.
“The biggest challenge is getting people to understand that making reports is important, even if it’s something as small as someone stole a flower pot off my porch,” she says.
Grand Rapids Police patrols are less frequent in areas where crime isn’t recorded, she adds, and web resources depend on information supplied by local departments.
A crucial message Benedict shares about offline, anti-crime measures relates to the “broken window theory” developed in the late 1960s. Researchers abandoned a car in a high-crime East Coast community and soon found the car vandalized and targeted for parts theft. Then a car was taken to a more affluent community where it sat untouched – until researchers deliberately broke a window. Soon thieves began removing items from the car.
“The broken-window theory states that crime tends to go down when it looks like people care,” Benedict says. “Cleaning and making things nice, looking like you’re doing something to help the neighborhood, actually makes people respect it.”
Meanwhile, some Detroit neighborhood businesses are going green. Project Green Light, launched this year, lets convenience stores, restaurants, and gas stations voluntarily connect with the police department’s Real-time Crime Center where the premises are monitored for activity. A green dome light located at the business indicates the presence of high-definition surveillance cameras designed to discourage robbery, loitering, and also to help solve crime, like the recent shooting at a green light gas station on Fenkell Avenue. The suspect was arrested when her image was shown after she fired a gun into a car.
“What we’re doing is combating crime through technology,” says U. Renee Hall, deputy chief of the Detroit Police Department.
“We remember when we were 4,000-strong (as a department). Now we’re 2,500-strong, but we still have the same square mileage to cover, so it’s incumbent on all of us… preventing crime is everybody’s responsibility.”
James Ward Jr., president of west side Detroit’s Greenacres Woodward Community Patrol, concurs. He and Hall discussed building safer neighborhoods at February’s Detroit Policy Conference.
Nationally, in neighborhoods where radio patrols like Greenacres are created, there’s a 70 percent crime reduction, Ward says.
Would-be offenders retreat into shadows when they know “you are looking, even if it’s just by pulling your shades up, and watching them,” he says.
Vigilance works, regardless of where one lives or where one’s business is located, Benedict says, adding there’s no technological replacement for acting as the eyes and ears of the community.
“I feel safer because my neighbors look out for me. I look out for their kids, they look out for my kids,” Benedict says. “It truly does take a village.”