About 60 leaders, mayors and residents heard a presentation about making the community safe with an innovative system at the Friday, June 17 meeting of the Pike County Mayors Association in Louisiana.
By the end of the meeting, there was strong support for hiring a county community representative who could link law enforcement, youth, adults and services together under a national model.
Louisiana First Baptist Church Pastor Bill Maupin said he got the idea to contact the Safe and Sound Community Partnership Program in Milwaukee, Wis. shortly after returning to Louisiana 18 months ago after a long absence.
Maupin said when he returned, he sensed that people wanted to feel safer in their own neighborhoods.
About that same time he saw the Milwaukee police chief talking about the Safe and Sound program and community policing plan that was turning crime-ridden neighborhoods around.
Safe and Sound spokeswoman Bree Spencer works in the Milwaukee program and said at the meeting it builds “safe and empowered neighborhoods” by uniting residents, youth, law enforcement and community resources.
That’s done with community block watches and parties where residents speak with law enforcement and others about their neighborhood’s problems and deal with them through a community prosection unit coordinator, who runs a multi-agency team to resolve nuisance property issues and to be a liaison between the community and law enforcement.
Spencer said she works on a Safe and Sound team in that capacity right inside a Milwaukee police station.
Policing one’s own community also helps, Spencer said.
“Community policing means you have to be the person that calls the police,” Spencer said.
For instance, one neighborhood in Milwaukee was having a growing problem with gun violence and police started meeting with residents about it on a weekly basis.
“They found out which houses were the problem and then they took a different tact,” Spencer said. “The found out what they needed and what was causing friction in the house and then they got them services to fix it,” she added.
In another case, a young child was being detained at the station because he had been a lookout for a burglary ring. Instead of arresting the youth and giving him a record, Safe and Sound found him services that he needed, Spencer said.
“It’s all about removing barriers,” Spencer said.
In another Milwaukee community, Christians, Muslims and Jewish residents banded together to stop violence in their neighborhood.
They did it with a community walk and an adopt-a-block program, she said. There was also a rapid response team to help allay fears at places like a homicide site, Spencer said.
Those in attendance noted that Louisiana and other towns already have block parties, National Nights Out and youth liaison groups.
“But no one is connecting things like from a teacher to a prosecutor,” Louisiana Mayor Bart Niedner said.
Getting teachers involved in such a program is key, because they know who the potential trouble makers will be, one resident said.
“This is all wonderful but a structure has to be there and have to maintain it,” noted Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley.
A public safety coordinator for the county was a popular idea with the crowd and Missouri State Representative Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) said the position could be funded by a community development block grant.
“We need someone to pull it together to be informed and organized,” said Sheriff Stephen Korte.
The mayors decided to form a small steering committee that will provide information about the safety needs of the communities. They mayors will then discuss the information at another public meeting.