Violence Impact Project

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We’ll take you into a Phoenix neighborhood once considered ‘the hot spot’ for crime. Now, a few months after launching the Violence Impact Project, police say crime has dropped dramatically. Find out how they’re doing it.

TED SIMONS: Phoenix Police Department is taking a different approach to fighting crime in one part of the city. It's called the "Violence Impact Project" and it's focused on the areas just west of Interstate 17 from Indian School Road to Dunlap Avenue. That's where producer Christina Estes and photographer Langston Fields talked with police and residents.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Just off 27th Avenue are hillside neighborhoods with a mix of people. Some who have never left. Some like Sam Macias who have returned.

SAM MACIAS: I move back into the area about two and a half years ago.

CHRISTINA ESTES: And some who are being kicked out.

SAM MACIAS: I knew that it was a hot spot for crime.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Sam's neighborhood wasn't just a hot spot, but the hot spot. According to the man in charge of the Cactus Park police precinct.

KEVIN ROBINSON: We would have department wide meetings to talk about crime, it was always referred to as the red spot on the map where most of the crime was occurring. And what we found was that everybody was pointing at pretty much the same things. Certain problems, locations, and certain things were going on.

SAM MACIAS: So along 27th Avenue you'll see the prostitution, you'll see them walking the streets back and forth, you see people pull over and do quick deals, and you can sit on the corner and watch that. People offshoot to a small street a lot of times or find a poorly lit building and do whatever they come into the neighborhood to do.

CHRISTINA ESTES: It's a familiar story to Commander Robinson.

KEVIN ROBINSON: Anybody who has been around the valley long enough remembers when East Van Buren was the place to go -- unfortunately for any type of sex-related business. There was prostitution, a host of things up and down Van Buren. As a matter of fact, when I was a fairly new Lieutenant working out of central precinct, one of my responsibilities when I started the midnight shift every night was to get a rough count of how many prostitutes were out on the street. That -- gave us a gauge on how busy we would be.

CHRISTINA ESTES: While the images aren't new to police, their reactions are. More than a decade ago when it came to prostitution along Van Buren Street, Robinson says the mentality was to throw them in jail and the problem would disappear.

KEVIN ROBINSON: The reality of it all is the problem doesn't go away. Eventually they come out and they have to go somewhere. The unfortunate thing is that, that somewhere is here on 27th Avenue. In that area from Indian School up to Dunlap.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Other crimes followed, including drug deals, shoplifting and trespassing. Lots began to fill with trash or become makeshift homes for those without.

SAM MACIAS: Buildings aren't being kept up, bad land ownership and building owners. So when you have a community that looks crime-ridden or looks bad, it invites the actions in the community.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Rather than rush in and make arrests, cops focused on building relationships, getting input from people who live and work here, and getting other city departments to help track down landlords renting to bad tenets. This house was once considered a nightmare for neighbors and a haven for drug users. The City evicted them and the house is now for sale.

SAM MACIAS: We worked with an art group called Land Collection.

CHRISTINA ESTES: As they eliminate ugliness, residents also want to add beauty.

SAM MACIAS: The vision of that wall came from a community conversation with ASU professors and residents, envisioning what a healthy and safe community looks like for them. With that input the artists came up with the design of this mural and a smaller mural just on the other side of the lot.

KEVIN ROBINSON: Crime had been way up here for the last several years. Since the inception of this program and our efforts, and the partnerships that are in place, we have seen nothing but a decline in calls for service, as well as the level of violence and all crimes occurring in that area. In some places we are down double digits.

CHRISTINA ESTES: In the last few months city staff says they have resolved more than 800 graffiti issues, investigated more than 300 blight cases, and responded to 6 complaints about homelessness. Robinson said arrests are leading to convictions for high risk offenders and second chances for others.

KEVIN ROBINSON: People didn't grow up wanting to be homeless or wanting to be a prostitute. Out of happen stance, that is the life they have fallen into. If you can give them a way out, an opportunity to fix that, fix their lot in life, you find that people are willing to do that. That's what we were about. We were about working with different groups and getting those types of things, those types of opportunities to folks living in those situations.

CHRISTINA ESTES: While Robinson considers the "Violence Impact Project" a success, he says there will be no official end date.

KEVIN ROBINSON: That signals quite honestly that you've given up on that area, in my mind. We're not going to do that.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Instead he says police will stay involved with people like Sam and the Canyon Corridor Neighborhood Alliance.

SAM MACIAS: That group is a really just body of residents and organizations that come together to discuss issues and plan strategy on how do we go after them, how do we have a conversation with the Police Department or the building owner or with the mom and dad who walk their kids to school and teach them. We partner them with mom and dad and Police Department, and we have P.D. have that conversation and say this is what we look for in crime, this is how to report it. You don't have to be afraid of reporting. I think it'll be a huge success in reducing crime and also beautifying the neighborhood, making it safer to walk around, making it more vibrant to walk around. I think we're looking forward to a great future.

TED SIMONS: When Phoenix police arrest prostitutes, they are often given a chance to participate in a diversion program rather than going to jail. When it comes to solicitation, men are offered a one-time option to complete what's called John's School in exchange for the case being dismissed.

Submit your questions, comments and concerns via email at azpbs.org.

TED SIMONS: Friday on "Arizona Horizon it's the journalists' round-table. State revenues exceed state forecasts, but is the money just filling holes from recent slowdowns. And you know who is still the favorite presidential candidate among GOP voters in Arizona. Those stories and more on the journalists' round-table. That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

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