Surveys focus on perceptions of downtown crime

Becky Campbell • Nov 12, 2012 at 10:09 PM

A local consulting company distributed surveys this week to downtown businesses to gather information about perceptions of crime so police can better utilize their resources.

It’s just a small part of a larger survey project that Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois hopes will lead to a federal strategic planning grant to fund crime intervention and revitalization efforts in a concentrated part of the city.

“The Office of Criminal Justice Programs approached the police department in order to initiate a strategic planning process that will effectively improve the city’s intervention in and response to drug-related and violent crime,” Sirois said. “The ultimate goal of the strategic planning process is to implement the Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction Project, which will make Johnson City the seventh city in Tennessee with this program in place.”

The initial $45,000 investment for the survey and planning phase could lead to a two-year $800,000 grant to implement the strategic plan that Sirois said would target criminal activity and other aspects of building a safer neighborhood.

Sirois likened the project to Weed and Seed, a federal program targeting crime and neighborhood revitalization across much of the city, but focused on a smaller area.

The consulting company, LK Consulting, is owned by two sociology professors, Dr. Leslie McCallister and Dr. Kelly Foster. They and several students are handling the survey process, which started several weeks ago with door-to-door interviews of residents in a pre-determined area — Mountain Home.

“We are helping the police department identify target neighborhoods for this up-and-coming grant. The funding agency wants to make sure we’re targeting the area that needs it most and we get residents to buy-in,” said McCallister.

“What we’ve done is designed a community survey; couple weeks ago, we went out with students we’ve hired and interviewed residents in the Mountain Home neighborhood area. We asked about strengths, areas of improvement, ways the police department was being effective and ways they could improve,” she said.

On Monday, the students began distributing a 39-question survey asking business owners about the types of problems, including crime, they face by being in the downtown area.

“Some are businesses that will see things in the day while others only operate at night. This will help us narrow down this larger geographic area to a small area to allow the police department to develop strategies to target these issues,” she said.

If the city gets the full grant funding, McCallister said she and Foster will bring ETSU into the equation and “run the evaluation of that program through the Applied Social Research Lab.”

Sirois said part of the initial $45,000 in planning funds will be used to hire a project director, which is being advertised on the city’s website at www.johnsoncitytn.org.

He said the city’s goals for the grant include “significant, long-term reductions in crime and disorder in the targeted areas; targeted, effective, evidence-based interventions applied to areas of the city with identified and longstanding crime and disorder problems; and identifying “what works” in these areas of the city.”

The other cities in Tennessee already involved in this program are Clarksville, Columbia, Cleveland, Kingsport, Jackson and Murfreesboro.

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