Weed and Seed program:
Weeding out crime and planting seeks of hope

by Laura Fratus

(Plain Press, October 2004) Any gardener knows that neither diligent weeding nor generous seed-sowing will result in a healthy garden unless they are done together.

The Weed and Seed program now in its second year of operation in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood operates on this same principle. The federally-funded program aims to stabilize and restore high-crime neighborhoods by “weeding out” sources of crime while simultaneously sowing the seeds of human services that will help stop further crime from developing. It aims to build cooperation and communication among residents, various law enforcement jurisdictions, and public officials.

Craig Tame, Chief Health and Public Safety Officer for the city of Cleveland, points out that this holistic approach to law enforcement and economic development employs “the broken window approach — change the atmosphere and you’ll change the problem.”

The Detroit-Shoreway grant is for $175,000 the first year and $225,000 each additional year, for five years. Besides funding a site coordinator position, the Weed and Seed grant has also paid for expenses such as police overtime. After five years, the community may reapply if the boundaries of the target area are changed. A maximum of three sites may be funded in a single city, but Ward 17 councilman Matthew Zone emphasizes that the federal funding is a relatively small part of Weed and Seed’s impact. “This should be about modeling an idea,” Zone says. “This is the first time in the entire city that there has been total cooperation and collaboration among all levels of law enforcement.”

He points to three recent drug sting operations in the area as examples of the type of multi-jurisdictional efforts that are the hallmark of the program. In those operations, federal authorities from the Drug Enforcement Administration worked closely with First District police, the county sheriff, and city and county prosecutors.

Already, the Weed and Seed program has spawned similar efforts elsewhere in the city. The Central neighborhood in Ward 5 was recently selected as Cleveland ’s second site for the federal program, and a similar local initiative called Positive Action for Community Enrichment, or PACE, began in August in the Bellaire-Puritas neighborhood of Ward 19.

The neighborhood bordered by West 73 rd and West 85 th Streets and Lorain and Lake Avenues was selected as Cleveland ’s first Weed and Seed site partly because that area experienced the highest crime in the First District during both 2002 and 2003. Residents had long complained about chronic drug activity, prostitution, and neglected property.

In addition to the high rate of crime, the neighborhood also possessed some assets which made it a good candidate for the program. Its relatively small area — one quarter of a square mile, with approximately 1,100 households — allows for targeted law enforcement and neighborhood revitalization efforts to show results more quickly. And existing social service programs, churches, and an active community development corporation provided instant allies in establishing the “seeding” side of the equation. One requirement of all Weed and Seed sites, a highly visible Safe Haven where residents can find services, is housed at Bridgeway, Inc., 8301 Detroit , and administered by West Side Ecumenical Ministries. From 3:00 to 7:00 PM Monday through Thursday, youth ages 10-17 can stop in for tutoring, activities, and field trips. In the future, the Safe Haven may offer additional services to families.

A 1999 study by the National Institute of Justice showed that efforts in the earliest Weed and Seed communities were sometimes hindered when residents did not “buy in” to the program, or remain committed to it long-term. Zone does not anticipate such a problem in Detroit-Shoreway because the initiative began as a grassroots effort and continues to be guided by a steering committee that includes a number of neighborhood residents.

Among the earliest residents to become involved was Brian Kazy, who now serves as the Weed and Seed Site Coordinator. Along with Zone and First District police commander Gary Gingell, Kazy makes a weekly tour through the neighborhood, identifying properties in need of remediation and meeting proactively with property owners to discuss programs that are available to assist them in correcting code issues. In addition, foot patrols and other community policing efforts have brought local law enforcement into closer contact with residents.

Both Kazy and Zone believe that the program has already begun to show results. Kazy points to a gradual improvement in some long-neglected properties, neighborhood clean-ups and resident participation in safety initiatives as evidence of the “seeding” aspect of the program at work. While acknowledging that serious issues still remain to be dealt with, Zone is confident that “weeding” is also beginning to pay off. “Have we eliminated all of the problems yet? No,” he says. “But do the kids selling drugs on the corner know we’re on to them? You better believe it.”


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