Programs help lower crime rate in the city

Published 10:36 am Sunday, August 15, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s major-crimes rate for the first six moths of this year was down about 10 percent when compared to the first six months of 2009, according to preliminary data released by the Washington Police Department.
That decrease follows a 26 percent decline in the crime rate from 2008 through 2009.
In the first six months of 2010, the number of reported major crimes — murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson — totaled 325, down from the 364 reported for the first six months of 2009 and down from the 442 reported in the first six months of 2008, according to data provided by the department.
The decline in the crime rate so far this year is being attributed in part to the continued success of Project Next Step. Department officials believe that decline can continue in the future, especially with the addition of DREAM, a new program started this summer. DREAM puts its focus on preventing gangs and gang-related activities from getting a foothold in Washington, according to department officials.
Detective Issac Barrett, the department’s narcotics/gang investigator, explained that DREAM stands for Dedicated to Rebuilding, Educating and Motivating youth and the community.
The department’s closure rate on reported crimes is at 45 percent, said Lt. William Chrismon, commander of the criminal investigations division. Across the state, the average closure rate is 26 percent, he said. The improvement in the department’s closure rate is directly attributable to the community getting more involved in fighting crime, he said.
A $191,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department is helping the department further its efforts to fight gang and illegal drug activities in the city by way of DREAM. The grant allows the department to dedicate an investigator to follow up on intelligence and information collected by the department as a result of Project Next Step.
April Corbett, Project Next Step coordinator, said DREAM targets children before they get to the point where they may need Project Next Step.
Project Next Step, funded by a grant authorized by the Governor’s Crime Commission, is designed to identify criminal activity in a targeted neighborhood.
The project identifies individuals involved in unlawful conduct and presents a unique manner to deal with them. If successful, the intervention eliminates overt criminal activity while bringing city and community resources available to alter the individual’s lifestyle, according to project spokesmen.
Chrismon attributes the decline in the crime rate and the increase in the closure rate of reported crimes to Project Next Step and crime-fighting efforts by the patrol division. He expects DREAM to become a key program in the department’s crime-fighting efforts.
“It started off really big,” Chrismon said of the summer program.
Chief Mick Reed concurs.
“It’s all part of a bigger strategy that’s been in place for several years,” Reed said. “These components (DREAM and Project Next Step) are part of a bigger city-wide strategy.”
Reed said the strategy’s goal is much more than reducing crime; there’s a “quality of life” element to the strategy.
Barrett said DREAM is geared toward youths from 8 to 15, but it has included some 7-year-olds. The program, which operates from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, ends Friday. The Washington Housing Authority provided space for the program’s classroom activities.
DREAM’s elements include gang-resistance education, street smart-awareness training, literacy classes, drug-awareness classes, alcoholism-awareness classes, HIV and sexually transmitted-diseases classes and social-skills classes.
“We served about 35 children,” Barrett said. “It gives them something to do instead of sitting in the house all summer.”
Program participants were fed by a Beaufort County Schools program. The Boys &Girls Club of Beaufort County and Bishop Samuel Jones Jr. with the Purpose of God Annex’s Outreach Center also supported the program.
The program was well-received by the community, Barrett said.
“I had black males in the 18 to 25 age say to me, ‘Thank you for doing something for the community.’ … I had parents tell me the same thing,” he said.
Chrismon said those responses and feedback from the community about Project Next Step indicate the “community has faith in these programs.”