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Reducing crime with childcare: An innovative approach in Cypress Hills

 

Kids in childcare in Cypress Hills New York.

To improve public safety, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) in Brooklyn has just kicked off a new initiative that will tap the natural leadership qualities of women childcare providers.

It is an unusual model, but one that holds great promise for changing how police and residents work together to address crime challenges in this diverse neighborhood.

The effort involves the Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation, a subsidiary of CHLDC that supports about 45 women entrepreneurs and 30 assistants who provide high-quality daycare to more than 500 children annually. The Corporation provides training, business development guidance, licensing assistance and networking opportunities to help the women succeed personally and professionally.

The LDC and the Child Care Corporation see daily what parents everywhere know: The people who care for our kids tend to have a unique lens into what’s going on with our families, and we usually consider what they have to say when it comes to the well-being of our children and their world.

Can their knowledge and voice be used to improve safety? Cypress Hills LDC and the Child Care Corporation are exploring that concept this year with funding from Liz Claiborne Foundation and support from LISC. The safety work complements other efforts by the LDC and its partners in LISC New York City’s Sustainable Communities initiative to improve education, family assets, food access and the environment in Cypress Hills.

One of Cypress Hill's "Weed and Seed" clean up crews in action.

Community and crime in Cypress Hills

Crime is a persistent challenge to the Cypress Hills community. Drug activity, gang violence and domestic violence top a list of priorities identified by the New York Police Department’s 75th Precinct and local residents.

Domestic violence is a particularly thorny issue to tackle for a host of reasons, including that it mostly occurs behind the closed doors of family homes and that cultural norms differ widely on how to respond.

Cypress Hills LDC has already stepped up to address safety with the NYPD. With baseline funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, it has been a leader since 2009 in a local “Weed & Seed” initiative that has promoted anonymous reporting of drug dealing and gang activity, mobilized community clean-ups and marches for peace, and strengthened support for people returning from the prison.

The LDC constantly navigates complex community-police relations in the course of this work. Many Cypress Hills residents—particularly immigrants—feel uncomfortable reporting crime or otherwise working with police to improve safety.

As 2012 unfolds, the LDC is tapping the natural leadership roles of childcare providers in a new phase of its safety work. The LDC and the Child Care Corporation will be working with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to train childcare providers in multiple languages on how to identify the signs of domestic violence and what they can do to help.

The LDC will also introduce providers to police officers, facilitating dialogue on topics such as domestic violence reporting, how the NYPD responds to undocumented people and how community members and police can work together to address neighborhood crime problems.

The Child Care Corporation is taking this effort a step further by using its “Women’s Empowerment Nights” for the mothers of children enrolled in childcare services as additional opportunities to help women get to know NYPD officers in person, as well as other local safety and service leaders.

It is also backing up informal messages relayed by childcare providers to families by providing new culturally and linguistically appropriate brochures and materials about domestic violence and crime reporting.

A police officer and local resident in Richmond, Virginia.

The importance of legitimacy

Nearly all police leaders are quick to acknowledge that most crime problems can’t be resolved by law enforcement alone.

LISC’s Community Safety Initiative has worked for 17 years to support community development organizations that are being creative about how housing, economic development and organizing can be turned into crime-fighting tools.

There is a common and fundamental element to the most successful of these community safety initiatives: The presence of brave community leaders who work with police to report crime, to assist with investigations and to uphold their own high standards for the community’s appearance and the behavior of residents and visitors.

As local leaders do that hard work (and ask their neighbors to join them), it is important that the community feel that police are on their team, or even better, that police are truly part of the community.

The hot word on this topic in criminal justice circles right now is “legitimacy”—the idea that people will only cooperate with police if they see them as legitimate legal authorities who exercise their power fairly and should be obeyed.

Some police chiefs and scholars have similarly highlighted that it is equally important for police to believe that the vast majority of people want to live in safe neighborhoods—that they aren’t willfully tolerating crime around them—and that given the right support and tools, they will contribute to solutions.

Cypress Hill childcare

Ambassadors for safety

Projects like the one going on now in Cypress Hills are so important in this context. The Cypress Hills team is giving women childcare providers the tools to be ambassadors for safety in their community—including information, communication skills and, hopefully, relationships with officers with whom they can develop trust and confidence.

The LDC has identified a number of ways to encourage women to put those tools to use, leveraging the providers’ knowledge about the families that use their services and their respected voice to help identify problems and facilitate solutions.

In turn, the project will connect NYPD officers with a group of natural community leaders who care deeply about the well-being of children and the environment in which they live, and are uniquely positioned to help identify families experiencing domestic violence.

There is clearly a lot more to establishing police legitimacy than creating opportunities for dialogue between community leaders and officers. Police departments which are seriously examining this topic are thoughtful about the implications of enforcement strategies and the discretionary choices that individual officers make on a near-constant basis in the course of their work.

Yet the efforts of community developers like Cypress Hills LDC lay the groundwork for community members and police to identify shared interests, learn about each other’s strengths and resources and take concrete action together, which goes a long way toward building mutual confidence.

Julia Ryan is director of the LISC Community Safety Initiative.

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Posted in Community Safety, Education & Early Learning, New York

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