Best Practices - Vol. IV

Mayor Rosemary M. Corbin

Operation Safe Homes

To paraphrase an African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, and in America today, it takes a collaborative government effort to keep the child safe.

The epidemic of illegal drug abuse and the proliferation of violence exists today in communities throughout the country. The problems are particularly evident in economically distressed communities, where residents have little influence over where they reside and raise their families. In response to this problem, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as a major stakeholder in the provision of rental housing across the country, initiated "Operation Safe Homes," an effort designed to strengthen the relationship between the local Housing Authority and the HUD Office of the Inspector General.

The City has a responsibility to ensure a decent quality of life for its residents, including those that rely on government assistance for their rental housing. The Police Department has the power to arrest individuals who commit crimes. The Housing Authority has the power to terminate assistance to families that violate the "One-Strike" policy. Despite great efforts by both agencies, Richmond found that something was missing. City leaders determined that by working together, and effectively using their sanction power collaboratively, they could achieve better results -- in the form of safer neighborhoods.

Operation Safe Homes is used in the City of Richmond to address crime activity, especially in rental housing units assisted by the Housing Authority. Operation Safe Homes is a problem-solving "Team" consisting of representatives of the Housing Authority, the Police Department, the City Attorney's Office, and the City Manager's Office. When an individual or address is identified as being involved with illegal drugs or violent criminal behavior, the Team looks at the situation with an eye to identifying how members can work together to mitigate the problem. The first response is always intervention, looking to see if there are services that the City can provide that will assist the family and eliminate the problem. If this is not practical or possible, or if the family is uncooperative, the Team looks for enforcement activities that will eliminate the problem.

In some ways, the Housing Authority has more power to change behavior than the Police Department. Criminals don't always fear jail, but people generally fear losing their housing. Through Operation Safe Homes, the Police Department provides the Housing Authority with timely information about criminal behavior. The Housing Authority follows up immediately, notifying the family of the intent to terminate assistance. Police Officers are available to testify during any termination hearing. The results are positive, and everybody wins! The residents enjoy a better quality of life; the Housing Authority confines its assistance to law abiding families; police officers are encouraged when their efforts are supported by the Housing Authority; and the community develops respect for the City when trouble-makers are removed from their neighborhood.

A representative from HUD's Inspector General's Office participates periodically in Operation Safe Home Team meetings. This strengthens the efforts of the City, and provides HUD with direct knowledge of the challenges and successes of the local housing authority in addressing the national epidemic of drugs and violence.

Contact: Tia Ingram, Public Housing Director, (510) 237-3271, ext. 240

RichmondWORKS and Richmond Summer YouthWORKS

The RichmondWORKS One Stop Career Center System and the Richmond Summer YouthWORKS Private/Public Employment Program were developed by a mandate of the Mayor and City Council and are successfully sustained by strong and consistent shows of support from the elected officials of the City of Richmond.

The nationally-acclaimed collaboration of private business, education, government, public and non-profit employment and training agencies known as RichmondWORKS was conceived in 1991 when the Richmond City Council directed newly-hired Employment and Training Director Isaiah Turner to "do something" to work with local employers to provide access to more and better jobs for their constituency of adult and youth job seekers, including those who were not eligible for the City-operated federally-funded Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs.

The outcome was RichmondWORKS and Richmond Summer YouthWORKS, which were officially started in February 1993 with a kick-off drive to register the job skills of Richmond residents in a labor pool to be matched to local employers who had pledged their support to seeking qualified locals for their job openings.

The success of RichmondWORKS is reflected in the increasing number of local employers who direct their human resources staff to hire first or exclusively through RichmondWORKS, and in the over 4,500 adult and 4,000 youth residents of Richmond who have acquired gainful employment as a result of this program over the past three years.

Some specific activities that RichmondWORKS provides are mass outreach, recruitment, screening and referral of local residents for new employers. Successful hiring projects have included 900 staff hired for the San Pablo Casino; 200 for FoodsCo grocery store; 400 for Home Depot and 150 for Office Max.

Richmond has used tactics such as RichmondWORKS to successfully tackle the challenges of high poverty and unemployment, high crime, and a financially bankrupt local public school system. The result has been a significantly reduced crime rate and two major awards: the California League of Cities' Helen Putnam Award for Excellence and the California Health Department's Healthy Cities Award. Richmond is now officially one of the healthiest cities in California.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (510) 620-6503

Multi-Agency Drug Task Force

During the months of October and November 1996, the City of Richmond experienced a sudden and dramatic increase in violent crimes associated with street-level narcotics sales. In an effort to curtail the violence, officials developed a multi-agency task force consisting of narcotics detectives and specialized street teams from the federal, state, county and local level. The personnel were drawn from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department and the City of Richmond Police Department. The goal of the operation was to stem violence, reduce street-level drug trafficking and insure the safety of the citizens of the community.

The task force was activated on December 2, 1996 and culminated on January 3, 1997. In that period there were 108 felony arrests and five misdemeanor arrests. Six arrests were for weapons, 50 for narcotics, and 57 for other violations. Two of the arrests were in response to a street homicide; these led to a third suspect and the filing of criminal complaints against the suspects for murder.

Officials report that as a result of the dedication and combined teamwork of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel, there has been a visible decline in the street-level sales of narcotics and associated violent crimes. On several occasions, they say, citizens within the community voiced their appreciation for this multi-agency approach to reducing street-level drug dealing and its associated violence.

Contact: Lieutenant Doug Maples, Richmond Police Department, (510) 620-6655.

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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