When Better Tomorrows started working with the community at Janie’s Gardens Apartments in Sarasota, Florida, the staff identified safety as an immediate priority. The city ranks as one of the top 100 most dangerous cities in the country, boasting burglary and theft rates over double the national average. Janie’s Gardens sits at the heart of the heaviest crime area in the city. When Better Tomorrows arrived at the property, drug use and sales were prevalent. Fights, attacks, and illegal behavior were plaguing the premises and were becoming more commonplace. More than 330 residents call the affordable housing at Janie’s Gardens home. Many of them felt unsafe and admitted they were afraid to go outside. Committed to improving the living conditions for the residents at Janie’s Garden, the Better Tomorrows staff let the residents know that things were going to change.
Better Tomorrows staff met with the local district Police Captain to expand patrols in the area. After sharing information on local resources with residents, the staff organized a neighborhood watch program. Quite problematically, only a few community members came to the neighborhood watch. Many residents were afraid that participation in the program would make them - and their families - a target for the more hostile criminals. Realizing that anonymity would be necessary for soliciting more community participation, an innovative approach became necessary. Better Tomorrows adapted its neighborhood watch to meet the needs of the Janie’s Gardens Apartments community and devised a plan to create a “Secret Service” task force. In this system, Better Tomorrows staff members are the only people who know the identity of each participant. No formal meetings are held and membership is anonymous. This “Secret Service” approach bolstered individual involvement in community affairs and made the neighborhood watch more effective. Now, if individuals witness a crime or suspicious activity, they can report it directly to Better Tomorrows without fear of retaliation. The new programs implemented at Janie’s Gardens Apartments by the Better Tomorrows staff began positively impacting the community. It was clear that things were starting to change for the better, but the Better Tomorrows staff still felt there was more to be done.
In January 2013, Better Tomorrows staff connected with Officer Harris of the Sarasota Police department. A skilled policeman with a personal investment in the local community, Officer Harris had grown up at Janie’s Garden Apartments back when it was named the Janie Poe Housing Projects. When he met with the Better Tomorrows staff, Officer Harris agreed something more needed to be done. He expressed an interest in moving his patrol to the area so he might use his personal understanding of Janie’s Garden to deter crime. Better Tomorrows staff met with the Chief of Police to discuss moving Officer Harris’ patrols. The Chief was happy to oblige, as she recognized the strained conditions at the property. Soon thereafter, Officer Harris began regularly patrolling Janie Gardens.
Within a short period of time, safety greatly improved at the site. As it turned out, the combined efforts of the Sarasota Police Department, Officer Harris, the “Secret Service” and Better Tomorrows staff led to a drastic decline in crime. Residents who originally feared leaving their homes, now feel safe living at the property. In fact, the neighborhood continues to flourish with many Janie Gardens residents actively taking part in outdoor, community-based activities.
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