On Binghamton's Troubled Liberty
Street, Police Substation Spurs Turnaround
Binghamton (NY) Mayor Richard Bucci is demonstrating how the establishment of a police substation in a crime-ridden neighborhood can be the key not only to lowering the crime rate there, but also to pulling together the larger community in a public-private partnership dedicated to betterment of the neighborhood overall.
Liberty Street is in Binghamton's North Side, long considered to be one of the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods. The area, known for blatant, 'round-the-clock drug dealing and prostitution, had the highest crime rate in the city. Recognizing that the viability of their city depended on the viability of its neighborhoods, Mayor Bucci and police officials targeted the North Side for the kind of community policing that had been successful in other areas of Binghamton and in neighboring cities.
In 1995, community policing came to residential neighborhoods in Binghamton in the form of foot patrols. The program, called the Binghamton Neighborhood Enhancement Team (B-NET), worked with neighborhood watch groups to effectively prevent crime in these areas.
By the end of 1996, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the city had added two police officers to what already was considered to be a strong force. The Justice Department funding allowed B-NET to expand to two foot-patrol units, further increasing both the visibility of the police and the public's confidence in Binghamton's ability to combat crime.
In the spring of 1997, Mayor Bucci added mountain bike patrols to the B-NET program, increasing the mobility of the officers and allowing them to cover much more territory without losing their street-level effectiveness. Today, officers on mountain bikes are seen in residential areas, parks and business districts throughout the city.
The introduction of community policing to the North Side took the form of a new police substation which replaced a dilapidated structure once the site of a neighborhood tavern. The property, at 108 Liberty Street, had been taken by the city for back taxes. The construction of the substation involved $55,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds coupled with donations of material and labor totaling approximately $60,000. The Mayor is particularly proud of the fact that no city funds were required for substation construction: The project was embraced by more than 40 volunteer organizations, labor unions, companies and individuals whose contributions and efforts produced a permanent asset that otherwise would have cost the city upwards of $120,000.
Mayor Bucci describes the Liberty Street substation as a classic public-private partnership, with his initiative in launching the project being greeted by strong community support. According to the Mayor, "The energy created by the project spurred a barrage of inquiries to City Hall regarding how groups, companies and individuals might contribute to the construction of the substation. These commitments were not only to a building; they were also commitments to an ideal that all citizens have a right to feel safe in their homes and to be at peace in their neighborhoods."
Binghamton officials report that the once crime-ridden area surrounding the substation is now widely perceived to be safe, and that this perception has taken the area into the next phase of redevelopment.
Last September, Mayor Bucci announced the creation of the Liberty Housing Partnership Program, a joint venture of the city and the Chase Manhattan Bank. This initiative is designed to rehabilitate vacant buildings and increase the number of owner-occupied homes in the Liberty Street neighborhood. Initially, the program is working with three neighborhood houses which the city acquired through tax foreclosures. The bank is conducting outreach efforts to identify and pre-qualify potential buyers for these properties.
Early this year, Mayor Bucci announced that two long-established local businesses -- regional plumbing, heating and air conditioning companies -- have committed to stay in Binghamton and to relocate in the North Side neighborhood, in the back yard of the substation.
"Just a short time ago," said the Mayor, "neither business owners nor families would have considered a drive down Liberty Street, let alone a move to the neighborhood. Today, however, they are enthusiastic about moving in. With the criminal element eliminated, interest and optimism continue to grow."
Additional information on B-NET and the Liberty Street initiative is available from Stephen Jensen, Binghamton's Director of Community Relations, at (607) 772-7001.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.