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The Oklahoman: Community outreach program reduces violent crime

The Oklahoman: Community outreach program reduces violent crime

Sunday, April 8, 2018 | by Kyle Schwab

Southwest Oklahoma City resident Dorene Robben speaks Tuesday with police officers and state Attorney General Mike Hunter about safety concerns in her community. [Photo by Grayson Cook, The Oklahoman]

Watch Attorney General Mike Hunter go door to door with Oklahoma City Police officers as part of the department's community outreach program, funded by the Safe Oklahoma Grant, awarded by the Attorney General's Office

A cool April breeze rustled bushes, whipped wind chimes and flapped small American flags as police officers went door to door in a small senior living complex in southwest Oklahoma City.

Two uniformed officers, accompanied last week by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, were not looking for criminals or executing search warrants, but were simply reaching out to the residents to address any concerns in the community.

“This is a very effective approach to getting a handle on crime,” Hunter said.

The complex, Reding Senior Center, falls in a 6.25-square-mile zone that has seen about 10 percent of Oklahoma City's violent crime over the last few years, according to police. The zone itself makes up only 1 percent of the city limits.

For that reason, police selected the area — SW 29 to SW 66 between May and Walker avenues — to be the focus of the South OKC Safe Grant, which has already seen success in reducing violent crime.

One resident, Judy McGuire, 79, was quick to let the officers into her home. After turning down the volume on "Wheel of Fortune," she told the officers that a large vase and a giraffe statue recently had been stolen off her front porch.

“I've been very happy here other than the things disappearing," she said.

She said she likes the idea of more face-to-face interactions with police.

"There's been times that I would have liked to speak with a policeman but … I know they're busy catching bad guys,” she said.

Another resident, Dorene Robben, 71, told Master Sgt. Gary Knight that she would feel safer with an additional police presence in the area, such as extra patrols. Knight told her that many other residents in the area have asked for the same thing.

"We need more of it, especially on this property because we're all seniors," Robben said. "A lot of handicap people are here — walkers, power chairs, canes — and they're kind of ripe for the picking, so to speak.”

Knight said these residents are vulnerable and extra patrols would be an "easy fix."

Safe Oklahoma Grant

From 2011 to 2016, 40 homicides, 200 rapes, 732 robberies and 1,646 aggravated assaults were reported in the South OKC Safe Grant zone, police reported.

The $371,500 grant, funded by the AG's office, provides Oklahoma City police officers with overtime pay for meeting face to face with residents in the zone, gathering information on possible criminal activity and later acting on those tips to reduce crime.

The grant was award Dec. 4 and lasts exactly one year. Since the grant began, the number of violent crimes in the zone has steadily declined, according to the results of its first quarter — December through February.

There were 55 violent crimes reported in the zone in December, 45 in January and 40 in February, according to police. In February 2017, there were 64 violent crimes reported. That year to year comparison reflects a 37.5 percent decrease in violent crime.

“Our goal is to make contact with every resident and every business within this area and personally hear from them what their perceived issues are, what the real issues are and what they want to see the police respond to,” Maj. Patrick Stewart told The Oklahoman.

Stewart said there are about 15,000 physical addresses in the zone. He said officers first began knocking on doors in mid-January. Officers then, beginning Feb. 1, started “enforcement shifts” to act specifically on tips and information gathered during the door knocking shifts, Stewart said.

During the enforcement shifts, officers made 161 traffic stops, 13 felony arrests and 33 misdemeanor arrests. Police also executed six search warrants in the zone in February leading to the seizure of marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, illegal pills and more than $14,000 in drug proceeds, police reported.

Stewart said he anticipates the violent crime numbers will decrease even more in future quarters.

“This has really afforded the officers time to engage with the community and get a better understanding for the areas in which they patrol. We hope to make a big difference and to reduce violent crime,” Stewart said.

From the field

The attorney general said this “hands-on” approach of going through neighborhoods to get first-person information about the communities is essential to the goal of the Safe Oklahoma Grant.

“In areas where there is a crime rate which is unacceptable, the goal is to take that crime rate down and for people in that part of the city to be safer,” Hunter told The Oklahoman after visiting with residents with the police officers.

Hunter said this type of relational approach is effective and practical in bringing down crime.

“These grants are important. These grants produce results and they make the people in these neighborhoods safer. And that's the goal,” Hunter said, wearing a jacket with the word "POLICE" on the back.

The Safe Oklahoma Grant program was created in 2012 by the Oklahoma Legislature. The legislation directs appropriations be made at the end of each fiscal year to the AG's office to distribute to local law enforcement agencies.

Along with the Oklahoma City Police Department, 21 other agencies received money as part of the Safe Oklahoma Grant. More than $1.3 million was awarded to 22 Oklahoma agencies.