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The City of Seattle was recently awarded a grant from the federal government's Bureau of Justice Assistance worth nearly $1 million, and the money will

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Can A Million Dollars and Three Years of Research Fix Rainier Beach's Most Notorious Crime Hotspot?

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The City of Seattle was recently awarded a grant from the federal government's Bureau of Justice Assistance worth nearly $1 million, and the money will go toward a three-year effort to reduce juvenile crime in Rainier Beach.

Specifically, the cash, which actually totals $978,000, will fund the implementation of "an innovative place-based, community-oriented youth violence prevention strategy." That is a fancy way of saying Seattle and a few partner organizations will be thinking outside the box when it comes to the city's most crime-plagued blocks.

The key players here are the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan Update, and the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University.

George Mason previously conducted extensive research on crime trends in Seattle and found that crime concentrates in a handful of "hotspots" -- street corners, alleys, parks, etc. -- even if police try to crack down with arrests and traditional law enforcement strategies. Professor David Weisburd analyzed crime data from 1989 to 2004 and found that one-third of Seattle's juvenile crime occurred on just 86 of the City's 30,000 individual street "segments."

"The thing, if you read about hotspots, that is so fascinating is they tend not to change over time," says Mariko Lockhart, director of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. "There's a lot of common belief that if you have a lot of police presence in this one area, you'll squeeze it like a tube of toothpaste so it goes somewhere else. You read this research that David has done, you really see it persists in specific locations over time."

The grant money will focus specifically on reforming five to-be-determined hotspots in Rainier Beach. Lockhart says a top priority will be the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and South Henderson Street, a notorious hub for crime in south Seattle. During the first year, researchers at George Mason will gather additional data about crime in Seattle. After that, the stakeholders will formulate some fixes that go beyond sending cops to hassle kids on the corner.

Charlotte Gill, a co-investigator with Weisburd at George Mason, says one of the reasons Seattle was chosen for the project is the strong sense of community even in the most troubled neighborhoods.

"Seattle seems to have this really great atmosphere for community involvement and community organizing," Gill says. "That's the focus, moving away from 'We have crime hotspots, let's have a police crackdown.' It's beyind that. It's 'How can we bring in the community and solve problems and make life better for the residents and the kids in this area."

Gill says possible solutions include environmental fixes like improving street lighting, paired with social and educational services for at-risk youth, which is where the Violence Prevention comes into play.

Lockhart says it's "a luxury" to have three years to tackle the problem (although Seattle police and City leaders have been trying for at least three decades), explaining that the project allows for a long term solution rather than a quick fix.

"So often when facing an issue like youth violence we want to respond quickly and address the issue right now," Lockhart says. "I think this really will give us a lot of knowledge that could potentially have a much bigger impact on juvenile crime than we'd otherwise have the opportunity to have."

At George Mason, Gill says she and others will compare the results in Rainier Beach after three years with data from hotspots elsewhere in the city that haven't gotten the progressive crime-prevention treatment. If the progressive approach proves to be effective, the City could expand the approach to other areas.

"The goal is identifying what are the root causes," Lockhart says. "Why is juvenile crime happening on this spot and not three blocks down?"

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