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Neighborhood Alert Center History

During the development of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fighting Back Grant Proposal, the City of Little Rock created a series of planning networks. These planning networks were charged with the responsibility of creating new and needed initiatives for the City of Little Rock in four (4) areas: treatment; prevention; data collection; and public information. These planning networks were asked to identify areas where enough was not being done about substance abuse problems. They identified barriers to receiving services and the lack of services. In addition, the planning networks were asked to create non-traditional methods to combat substance abuse, especially those that would encourage partnerships between public agencies and citizens.

One such network, the Prevention Response Team Network met weekly during the fifteen (15)-month planning process. This network, which included neighborhood residents, representatives of neighborhood associations, substance abuse prevention specialists, Little Rock School District Staff, Little Rock Police Department Staff, other City Staff and religious organizations first shaped the idea of a neighborhood alert system for Little Rock.

Research indicates successful integration of the family system, the neighborhood environment, schools and religious organizations affect the successful prevention of substance abuse. Because of the concentration in Little Rock of prevention-based single environments, the Prevention Response Team Network began to develop and test a neighborhood-based, multi-environment prevention effort called the neighborhood alert system.

Originally the alert system was to seek, on a voluntary basis, the participation of families to work with neighborhood schools, religious organizations and resident associations to develop a coordinated method of working with youth in the neighborhood. The Network planned to develop up to fifteen (15) such systems throughout Little Rock. In addition, it was to incorporate the neighborhood support centers and the neighborhood alert system survey. The neighborhood support centers, another Little Rock Fighting Back initiative, are community-based facilities. They provide pre-and post-alcohol and drug abuse treatment support services such as assessments, relapse prevention, food and housing assistance, child care, transportation, education and job placement. The neighborhood alert system survey was designed to identify at-risk circumstances such as: incidence and prevalence of substance abuse; poverty; hopelessness; teenage parents; unparented or unsupervised children; boredom; gang activity; transient and/or deteriorating neighborhoods.

The need for increased responsiveness to neighborhood problems became a central element in the formation of the neighborhood alert system. While Little Rock Fighting Back was in its planning stage, fifteen neighborhood meetings were held throughout the City. A common theme ran throughout the meetings -- the deterioration of neighborhoods and the loss of belonging and sense of neighborhood previously felt by residents throughout Little Rock. Neighborhood residents felt abandoned by and detached from public and traditional systems. Law enforcement and other basic City services, schools and religious organizations were no longer a part of, or belonged to the neighborhood. In addition, frustration and fear were evident in these neighborhoods experiencing violence and crime due to the failure of public systems to respond in an intensive and sustaining manner. City services had been understaffed, underfunded and were frequently spread too thin throughout Little Rock neighborhoods. This resulted in a less intense and non-sustaining response in all neighborhoods. When residents demanded a response from public systems, the response was often too slow, temporary or unsatisfactory. In turn, neighborhoods began to feel a sense of hopelessness, distrust and eventually inertia. It was envisioned that through the Alert Centers the City could become more responsive to neighborhood associations and residents who wanted to rebuild and hold on to their sense of identity.

The main purpose of the Fighting Back Grant was to help in the reduction of alcohol and other drug abuse. The primary focus of the neighborhood alert system was to address the environmental causes of substance abuse, with the ultimate aim being the reduction in substance abuse problems. Involvement from within each neighborhood was critical to successfully meeting the primary focus of the alert system. Therefore, the neighborhood alert system was designed to be a neighborhood initiative, which joins City Hall programs with other resources. It was designed to develop partnerships between basic neighborhood services to create low-risk environments that would discourage the presence of alcohol and other illicit drugs. In addition, the alert system was to serve as an advocate for improving life conditions in targeted neighborhoods. Assuring the responsiveness of public programs allows neighborhood residents to see a swift and sustaining availability of services and positive changes in life conditions in their neighborhood, which creates action, and response by residents.

Also during the Fighting Back Grant planning phase, seven (7) Neighborhood Response Teams were formed with the responsibility of testing pilot approaches. These approaches did not include community organizing, rather, they included testing such approaches as drug-free zones and volunteer programs. These tests indicated that most neighborhood groups looked to outside assistance and direction and few were able to operate independently.

Based on these results, the Prevention Response Team Network agreed that most neighborhoods needed community organization, which would require paid staff who lived in the neighborhood. Although there was agreement in the need for a "neighborhood delegate," some neighborhood groups expressed concerns regarding the title for the position and their specific function in the neighborhood. Job title ideas ranged from Drug Demand Reduction Specialist, Neighborhood Representative, Neighborhood Advocate to Neighborhood Ombudsman. Staff and neighborhood representatives eventually agreed on Neighborhood Facilitator as an acceptable job title as it reflected the nature of the position without being too threatening.

In September 1991, the senseless killing of a young man on the streets of a Central Little Rock neighborhood became the catalyst for the early implementation of the Neighborhood Alert Center system. The Little Rock City Board of Directors, responding to public outcry and the demand for action, passed a directive requiring staff to open an alert center within thirty (30) days. On October 3, 1991, twenty-eight (28) days after the directive, the Arch Street Alert Center was opened. Although a Neighborhood Facilitator would not be hired until the following spring, the staff at the Alert Center included Code Enforcement Officers and Community Oriented Policing Officers.

Eight (8) Neighborhood Alert Centers were originally planned for development. Selection of areas to receive Neighborhood Alert Centers was difficult. One challenge was that many neighborhoods wanted a Neighborhood Alert Center and only eight were to be opened. In addition, as the Neighborhood Alert Centers were to dramatically change the environment within a neighborhood, the geographic region had to be small enough to have an intense, positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood environment.

The three (3) Departments involved in the Neighborhood Alert Centers were to establish neighborhood selection criteria; however, the ultimate decision of selecting Alert Center locations would rest with the Little Rock City Board of Directors. Little Rock Fighting Back established criteria for their recommended locations to include strong neighborhood-based religious organizations, existing neighborhood residents groups or organizations, a neighborhood school, deteriorating housing, concentration of rental property and a hot spot for drug activity. The Little Rock Police Department utilized crime statistics, requests for intensified service and reports of hot spots as criteria for selecting Neighborhood Alert Center areas. The Housing and Neighborhood Programs and Planning and Development Departments utilized the condition of housing stock, housing code violations, public complaints and knowledge of problem areas as criteria. After meeting, the three (3) Departments agreed on the following common areas: Southwest area; East End area; Wright Avenue area; Oak and 15th Streets area; the Central High area and the John Barrow area. An additional priority area, which was identified, the Capitol View-Stifft Station area, did not meet the original criteria, as it was a neighborhood primarily of family dwellings with few rental properties; however, the neighborhood association had reported an increase in drug activity. Therefore, it was agreed to consider this area a priority since it was viewed as a transitional neighborhood on the verge of problems. This area was to serve as a test to see if the Neighborhood Alert Center could prevent a transitional area from developing increased problems. City Resolution 8687, passed by the Little Rock City Board of Directors on April 7, 1992, set the intent to locate the seven (7) Alert Centers in the neighborhoods recommended by staff.

When the first Neighborhood Alert Center opened in October 1991, it was planned that a total of eight (8) centers would be opened over a five (5)-year period. Instead, due to their popularity and their success in reorienting City services to better meet the needs of residents and neighborhoods, the next seven (7) Neighborhood Alert Centers were opened by June 1993, at a rate of one (1) every other month.

In June 1993, members of the Wakefield Neighborhood Association attended a Little Rock City Board of Directors Meeting to request placement of an Alert Center in their neighborhood. They presented petitions signed by more than 600 area residents and business persons, as well as, detailed statistics on police responses and descriptions of two (2) incidents involving probable gang members. The neighborhood association was so committed to the prospect of an Alert Center in their area that they raised money to cover the expense for equipment for two (2) Bicycle Patrol Officers and obtained an agreement from a local businessman to donate two (2) years of free rent for a building site for the alert center. In addition, members of the association committed to volunteer their time to serve as the alert center receptionist -- a commitment that was maintained eight (8) hours per day for over one (1)-year. Overwhelmed by the neighborhood residents' show of support and willingness to contribute their own resources to the alert center, the Little Rock City Board of Directors allocated funding for the personnel and additional equipment needed to opened the ninth Little Rock Neighborhood Alert Center in August 1993.

On December 14, 1993, residents of Little Rock passed a one (1)-half cent sales tax to fund public safety related programs including prevention, intervention and treatment programs. A dedicated line item was also established in the tax to create an annual appropriation specifically for Neighborhood Alert Centers. Although only three (3) additional Alert Centers were planned using the annual appropriation established by the tax, six (6) neighborhoods were targeted as priority areas. The selection of the six (6) priority neighborhoods followed the selection method used to establish the original Neighborhood Alert Center areas. The six (6) areas were:  Oak Forest; Western Hills; East of Broadway; West Chicot; South Roosevelt; and American Manor.

Borrowing from the experience of the development of the Wakefield Neighborhood Alert Center, the City wanted to target neighborhoods that were interested and willing to support a Neighborhood Alert Center. Therefore, the City developed a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Community Partnership Support for Neighborhood Alert Centers. The RFP invited any resident association, public or private (non-profit) organization or agency, or group of interested persons within one of the six (6) designated areas to submit community partnership proposals. Eligible groups submitting proposals were to identify the level of neighborhood support, available resources and in-kind contributions available for the development of the new Alert Centers. No direct funding was available to applicants through the proposal.

The proposals were evaluated by a selection committee comprised of representatives from Little Rock Fighting Back, Neighborhoods and Planning, the Little Rock Police Department; and, one (1) representative each from the two (2) coalitions of neighborhoods, provided that their representatives were from neighborhoods outside the designated boundaries of the six (6) targeted neighborhoods. The selection committee ranked the proposals and submitted recommendations to the Little Rock City Board of Directors. In August 1994, the Board of Directors chose the proposals for the South of Roosevelt (South End) area, the Western Hills (Westwood) area and the American Manor (Upper Baseline) area. By February 1995, the Upper Baseline Alert Center and the Westwood Alert Center were opened. Complications in site acquisition in the south of Roosevelt area delayed the opening of the South End Alert Center.

In 1995, the City of Little Rock received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Special Purpose Grant for the expansion of the Neighborhood Alert Centers. In March 1995, the Little Rock City Board of Directors authorized the establishment of Alert Centers in the three (3) neighborhoods that were not selected through the Community Partnership Proposals; however, they were still considered priority areas. Those areas, West Chicot (West Baseline), Oak Forest and East of Broadway, now have operational Neighborhood Alert Centers. With the opening of these Neighborhood Alert Centers, the City of Little Rock has fifteen (15) operational Neighborhood Alert Centers, nearly twice the number originally proposed.

Today, cities are often faced with an incredible array of complex issues; however, they have limited resources to address them. As a result, innovative, non-traditional and collaborative approaches must be employed by local governments and their residents if they are to meet and solve these problems head on. That is what happened in Little Rock, Arkansas, with the implementation of the Neighborhood Alert Center System.

In 1991, the City of Little Rock opened its first Neighborhood Alert Center. Today, these centers serve as a hub of City Government within the neighborhood and link residents with basic City Services, Law Enforcement, Code Enforcement as well as other social services needs.



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