Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peeling Back the Layers

In his fight against the joke-slaying villain, Batman said: "The Riddler's mind is like an artichoke. You have to rip off spiny leaves to reach the heart!" Now that is strategic crime-fighting.

While the Cape Fear Future Leadership team isn’t unraveling brain teasers, they are actively pealing back those layers that are the primary causes of crime in downtown Wilmington, as the issue has garnered the attention of several community groups.
CFF chose to first concentrate on crime because it is a secondary issue associated with one of the main initiatives under CFF’s Quality of Life Task Force: promoting a vibrant downtown. Research overwhelming shows that a strong downtown is fundamental to the strength and vibrancy of an area’s regional economy; therefore, the task force wanted to solicit feedback from community members on those issues most pressing in terms of downtown revitalization. At the Cape Fear Future Commission meeting on September 1, attendees unanimously expressed their concern about crime in the central business district.

Since the meeting in September, CFF leaders have hosted and participated in several focus groups and roundtable discussions in an effort to develop a clear understanding of the effects of the problem and the means required to resolve it.

In one roundtable discussion hosted by PPD’s CEO General David Grange, attendees heard about the General’s experience with tackling crime through his work at the McCormick Foundation in Chicago. General Grange explained how violence is inextricably linked to civic health. Again, the idea of peeling back the layers surfaced as General Grange suggested our community “look below the water line” and identify the root causes of the issue.

So what do we see when we look below the water line? The most prevalent concern is the surplus of bars in the area. Compared to most cities, the density of bars in Wilmington is overwhelmingly disproportionate to the geographic zone of the CBD. Because those bars close at the same time, weekend party-goers exit onto the streets en masse, many intoxicated. Fighting and assaults often result.

It is not fair to solely blame the bar owners, property owners, bar-patrons or the police. It is fair to say, however, that there is a dangerous concoction at work: numerous bars, high number of college students, and the proximity in which all these dynamics take place is (about 12 blocks: Red Cross to Castle Street). But there may be strategies available that can help reduce the incidents of crime during these hours. The Department of Justice suggests two specific responses to reducing assaults in and around bars: the first recommendation is to implement responses to reduce how much alcohol patrons drink, thereby reducing aggression and vulnerability to assault; and implement responses to make bars safer, regardless of how much alcohol patrons consume.

What is the next step? CFF has been approached by several groups to aid efforts in exploring long-term options that include collaboration and policy development. CFF plans to act as a supporting unit and assist both community groups and local representatives in creating crime prevention strategies and policies that lead to long-term community success against crime.

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