Flint, MI—Neighborhood associations and block clubs across Flint have adopted a new technique for community crime prevention.

Representatives from 20 of these organizations logged into Zoom to learn about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. During four two-hour sessions, they learned how something as simple as trimming a hedge or mowing a lawn could help reduce crime in a neighborhood. 

The idea of CPTED originated during the ’60s as a movement dedicated to fighting crime not through policing but rather through urban planning. The basic idea of CPTED is to reduce crime by reducing the elements in the environment that facilitate it.

“What we ask is ‘how can you look at your community in such a way that you try to remove negative activity generators?’ You can do this by being conscious in the way that you design or build communities,” said Patrick McNeil, president of the NAC.

McNeil explained that small changes to an area like removing low-hanging branches from a tree that would be otherwise obscuring a small space or trimming a hedge that’s too high to look over can help by essentially taking away spaces where it’s easy to hide, thereby making it a less likely place for crime.

On top of learning about CPTED, session attendees were also taught new skills for their neighborhood watch programs. These included techniques on how to spot an ongoing crime and report it while staying safe and keeping others away from the area. 

“CPTED is a tool in the hand of community members,” McNeil said. “The community members themselves are the ones that help prevent or stop the crimes. What we want to do is give residents the knowledge necessary to do that safely.”

McNeil continued by saying that the lack of police officers patrolling Flint at any given moment is an issue residents in the north side of Flint are well aware of. “What we have, which is our own voice and our own eyes, is what we need to use to help the mayor and the chief do their job,” McNeil said. 

Some community leaders in north Flint are familiar with CPTED because of a similar effort underway in Brownell-Holmes, a small neighborhood on the edge of the city’s northern border with Beecher.

Known as the Illuminating Community Change Project, or IC2, the grant-funded project has been overseen by the Hamilton Community Health Network since 2017. 

During that time, similar efforts to inform community members on safe and effective crime detection and deterrence techniques as well as initiatives to remove blight, establish well-lit and groomed common areas like parks, have all shown promise. 

Holly Brown, community engagement coordinator for IC2 through Hamilton, has been hands-on with the Brownell-Holmes community for about a year. 

Like McNeil, Brown stressed the importance of being able to equip residents with the tools necessary to keep their neighborhood safe. 

“When you look at CPTED, this is a strategy that residents can get involved in. Say there is a 6-block area where there is a spike in crime. Residents can then look and say ‘let’s canvas these 6 blocks and see what looks different in this neighborhood versus a neighborhood in the south side that’s not facing this issue,’” Brown said. 

McNeil and Brown say they’ve faced little skepticism when teaching others about CPTED, but there have been times when it’s effectiveness has been put into question.

The data collected by the IC2 program regarding changes in crime statistics before and after CPTED implementation is still being looked at, but studies as to whether or not CPTED can work in Flint have already been done. 

Before being known as the IC2 program, the $1,000,000 grant given by the Bureau of Justice Assistance was called the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program. 

In 2014, this grant was awarded to Kettering University to help develop the University Avenue Corridor. In 2020 an evaluation of the Byrne program was published by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service in conjunction with the BJA and other federal organizations. 

In the evaluation, researchers found that implementation of CPTED allowed the project team to reach its goals of reducing blight by 50 percent in the area as well as reducing assault, robbery and burglary by 20 percent. 

For now, as Brownell-Holmes awaits its results and the NAC continues with its efforts to educate community members on the benefits of CPTED, McNeil said he is eager to see how community leaders implement what they’ve learned.

“We have some bright and talented people in our community and by giving them the information, they’ve caught on quick. Some are already out here doing this work. They’re starting to ask questions like ‘what else can we do? What can we do to make the community better?’” McNeil said. 

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...