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Criminal Abatement Program

International City/County Management Association - 2007 - Program Excellence Award: Community Health and Safety (50,000 and Greater)

Summary

In Little Rock, AR, each city department and previously worked separately without coordinating services. In 2004, the city responded to this problem with the Criminal Abatement Program (CAP), a focused nuisance abatement program developed to help create safer neighborhoods for Little Rock’s residents. First, the mayor and city manager identify a target area and tour it with staff. Next, each department conducts a coordinated sweep of the area. The unified team of key departmental staff is given the authority to abate, board, secure, and prosecute targeted properties. One of the less tangible benefits of CAP, but perhaps the most important, is that citizens see immediate, visible results of the hard work that elected officials and city staff do to make their communities safer.

Description

The city of Little Rock, Arkansas, was receiving frequent complaints from residents over nuisance problems—mainly, code enforcement and minor crime issues. But although a large number of complaints were coming from concentrated areas, each city department worked separately without coordinating efforts. In 2004, under the leadership of City Manager Bruce Moore, the city responded to this problem with the Criminal Abatement Program (CAP), a focused nuisance abatement program developed to help create safer neighborhoods for Little Rock’s residents.

Through CAP, city departments work together to concentrate their manpower and resources in targeted areas. First, the mayor and city manager identify a target area and tour it with staff. Next, each department conducts a coordinated sweep of the area. The unified team of key departmental staff is given the authority to abate, board, secure, and prosecute targeted properties. The full sweep and abatement process, which takes about six months, is completed in four phases:

• Phase I (three to four weeks): The Little Rock police department’s Special Investigations Division gathers intelligence about activities in the area, and the department then works with the SWAT division to make arrests.

• Phase II (three to four weeks): The code enforcement department inspects residential and business buildings for interior and exterior code violations; the building codes department inspects the area and removes any condemned commercial structures; public works does intensive street sweeping, some pickup, pothole patching, and ditch maintenance; and animal services inspects the area for violations. In all cases, staff work with property owners, allowing them ample time to get into compliance and fix violations.

• Phase III (two to three weeks): Following up from the previous two phases, the departments complete any necessary reinspections, and the police department continues its targeted patrol of the area.

• Phase IV (30 days): The city attorney’s office prosecutes violators who have not come into compliance for code violations.

After all phases of the program are completed, staff and political leaders tour the original area again to observe the progress.

This program represents the first time that city departments have applied a unified approach to problem solving—working together, communicating weekly about problems, and reaching solutions collectively. Biweekly, the mayor and city manager meet with city staff to discuss issues and next steps for criminal and code violators.

Because the crux of the program is the more efficient use of existing resources, its costs are relatively low. Little Rock has been able to operate CAP for almost three years without needing additional staff. The program is very time-intensive, but the results of the interdepartmental coordinated efforts are worth the time.

The CAP program has significantly improved the quality of life for many residents in Little Rock. In the two and half years since its inception, fire code violations in more than 500 structures have been remedied, more than 20,000 additional garbage/waste pickups have been made, more than 20,000 feet of right-of-way have been cleaned, nineteen structures have been demolished, more than 30 commercial businesses have been cited and either brought up to code or closed down, more than 2,500 notices and citations have been issued, with approximately 2,100 properties brought into compliance, and countless misdemeanors and felony tickets have been issued and arrests made.

One of the less tangible benefits of CAP, but perhaps the most important, is that citizens see immediate, visible results of the hard work that elected officials and city staff do to make their communities safer. And city staff have learned several important lessons as well:

• Smaller targeted areas work best. When a designated CAP area becomes too large, it becomes unmanageable, making it difficult to accomplish significant results.

• Interdepartmental coordination is crucial. Communication and a “teamwork” mentality is imperative for success.

• It is important to involve citizens in the process. Involving citizens in the process by meeting with neighborhood associations and working with property owners rather than against them has built citizen trust in local government. Overall, CAP has been an extremely successful program, and other cities, such as Topeka, Kansas, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, plan to establish similar programs.

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Tags: Civic/Public Participation, Collaboration/Intergovernmental Cooperation, Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Economic and Community Development





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