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Prevention: Community Programs - Evaluations Of Community Crime Prevention Programs

process organizations political participation

Evaluators in the field of community crime prevention have met more success at describing whether community programs and initiatives have met their process or intermediate objectives—like membership recruitment, consensus building, sustainability, and so on—than they have at demonstrating a causal impact of these programs on measures of public safety.

Process evaluations have revealed some of the factors that help launch and sustain participation in crime prevention initiatives. First, the involvement of extant multi-issue community organizations and of charismatic community leaders are strong determinants of program initiation, participation, and longevity. Activities initiated by and established within long-standing community organizations appear to outlast government-initiated programs, because these organizations can sustain the crime prevention network even as perceptions of the crime problems and funding and political support vacillate.

Instilling community cohesion is another important process aim of community crime prevention; some scholars even consider it the primary objective. While community organizations in general have clearly advanced this goal, scant statistical evidence supports the many anecdotal reports of a strong effect of community crime prevention on social interaction and mutual solidarity.

In addition to community-building, another process aim of community crime prevention is enhancing the political efficacy of a community. Through their activities, community members learn effective ways to act collectively, to cooperate with other organizations, and to strategically challenge policy proposals. Accordingly, a study by Grant, Lewis, and Rosenbaum observed an increase in civic participation following the institution of a large-scale block watch program in an area of Chicago and concluded that participation in crime prevention translated into greater political leverage for the community over "criminal justice, municipal, and even state institutions" (p. 381).

The outcomes of greatest interest to criminologists, however, are perceived and actual levels of crime and disorder, as well as fear of crime. Unfortunately, various characteristics of community crime prevention programs and the evaluation process have severely curtailed the frequency and quality of outcome-based assessments. Frequently cited obstacles to effective evaluation are the lack of available funds, of baseline and victimization data, of untreated equivalent communities for comparison, and of the required number of program sites needed to make reliable causal inferences. Insufficiently short follow-up periods and the reporting and recording biases of arrest and crime incident report data are additional impediments to assessment. Furthermore, the existence of so many multi-modality programs with flexible implementation plans impairs the ability of researchers to pinpoint the source of the apparent positive or negative effects.

At the risk of ignoring numerous striking counterexamples, the cumulative results of out-come-based evaluations can be summarized as follows:

  1. Strategies centering on community organization and political mobilization have evidenced no consistent impacts on crime measures, but some modest reductions in fear of crime.
  2. Programs integrating youth or gang out-reach workers fail to decrease crime and may even increase arrests, although Malcolm Klein demonstrated a decline in gang arrests during and immediately following a program that works with gang members as individuals.
  3. The best evidence, including one evaluation involving randomization, fails to find any long-term impact of neighborhood watch programs on crime, disorder, and fear of victimization. Programs that also include close police community collaboration and/or environmental modification components have yielded some encouraging results, however.
  4. While evaluations of comprehensive community programs of the 1990s are explicitly encouraged, disappointingly few outcomebased evaluations are pending.
  5. Programs that have produced favorable results on some indicators of delinquency are after school recreation programs, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and localized citizen-initiated community anti-drug efforts.
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