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Prevention: Community Programs - Political Mobilization

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The Chicago Area Project is a rare example of indigenous control over the design and implementation of sizable, though highly circumscribed, programs. Many grass-roots community organizations that succeeded CAPS, influenced in part by the confrontational tactics of organizer Saul Alinksy, recognized that social cohesion must be accompanied by economic and political resources to give communities a fighting chance against crime. As a result, more organizations adopted what Tim Hope calls vertical strategies, which focus on linkages between community life and decisions made at higher levels of power out-side the community.

The emphasis on vertical strategies was strongest in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy's administration sought to tackle racism, poverty, and delinquency by launching Mobilization for Youth, an effort in fifteen cities designed to provide youth more opportunities through empowering disadvantaged groups to challenge the unjust distribution of resources in their communities. Although crime prevention was the explicit aim of Mobilization for Youth, its concern with attacking what Cloward and Ohlin labeled the "differential opportunity structure" in America extended far beyond a concern for youth crime. In the end, Mobilization for Youth was deemed a failure, because its narrow emphasis on political activity antagonized local governments and failed to garner sufficient grassroots support.

The perceived failure of government programs, along with mass social protest during the 1960s, helped spark what Adam Crawford calls a "crisis of legitimacy" among government agencies, whereby social service programs and criminal justice agencies were perceived as out-of-touch with the preferences of those they served and incapable of affecting social structure. Relatedly, the emphasis on social structure in criminology yielded some prominence to a conception of rational offenders responding to incentives in the physical environment and to an emphasis on the victim's role in crime and crime control. Community defense activities allowed increasingly fearful and punitive citizens to protect themselves and their property against opportunistic offenders and to "fight back" through such actions as citizen patrols and property marking.

Community defense approaches also carried some appeal for public officials. Sharing responsibilities with community groups not only met the 1970s demand for fiscal restraint, but it also helped cultivate an image of local government as responsive to public concerns and only partially to blame for alarming crime rates.

Not surprisingly, then, community defense—at times combined with citizen mobilization for more city services—became the predominant paradigm of community crime prevention beginning in the 1970s. The federal government, for its part, sought to encourage the expansion of such programs by developing standards for citizen involvement set forth by the U.S. National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards in 1973, and by sponsoring training for community organizations and law enforcement agencies interested in launching such programs. The neighborhood watch model, which emphasizes collective vigilance over neighborhood space, became the most popular form of collective activity against crime, with 7 percent participation among adults in 1984. The estimated 18.3 million Americans—approximately 14 percent of whom are African American—volunteering in block watches and other neighborhood public safety programs in 1996 attests to its enduring popularity among diverse segments of Americans.

The trend toward public/private and inter-agency cooperation has spread to other crime prevention modalities—particularly delinquency prevention. During the 1990s the United States, Great Britain, and other nations experienced the spread of efforts to coordinate crime prevention efforts system-wide. Predicated on public health models of the development of high-risk behaviors, the community partnership approach views delinquency as the product of multiple risk and protective factors operating in a youth's social system. Coordinated partnerships strive to tailor the amount and type of services in a community to cost-effectively reduce and enhance, respectively, the multiple risk and protective factors assessed to be operating in a particular community.

The major federally initiated and funded partnership approaches, including Weed and Seed, the Comprehensive Communities Program, and Title V Community Prevention Grants Program—all launched during the 1990s—channel their funds through policy boards formed in various municipalities. Residents of particular neighborhoods and their leaders generally play a limited role in the coordinating bodies, often ceding authority to leaders of units of local government (e.g., police chief and school superintendent), and major social service organizations. On the other hand, members and leaders of community organizations may still assume important roles by serving as consultants in the assessment and planning process and helping mobilize support for and to implement community initiatives. Community-wide partnerships vary in the extent to which they support grassroots initiatives and in the direct control they exercise over these neighborhood organizations' use of the funds.

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