Two Milwaukee nonprofit organizations and the Milwaukee Police Department have been awarded a federal grant to address high crime rates in Washington Park and to continue their revitalization efforts in the west side neighborhood.
Washington Park Partners, Safe & Sound and the Milwaukee Police Department will divvy up a three-year $600,000 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which they will use to bolster Washington Park’s efforts to improve the neighborhood and get residents more involved.
“The thrust of it is resident engagement,” said Matt Melendes, the safety coordinator for the Byrne Grant and the sustainable communities director for Washington Park Partners. “We want to build as many relationships with residents (as possible) and have them take ownership of this.”
Melendes said the grant may be used to bolster Washington Park’s sustainable communities plan, a broad five-year initiative that addresses housing, arts and culture, education, employment, health and wellness and safety needs in the neighborhood. It could also be used to implement a neighborhood safety plan and help residents develop block clubs, community events and activities.
“With those increased relationships, it will help our neighborhood efforts as well as law enforcement efforts,” he added.
The Milwaukee Police Department, the grantee, will use a portion of the grant to develop law enforcement strategies in Washington Park. LISC Milwaukee will serve as the fiscal agent for Washington Park Partners and will provide technical assistance for the grant initiative.
A portion of the Byrne Grant will go to Safe & Sound and its team of community organizers who work to reduce violent crime, and a community prosecution unit that works with the Department of Neighborhood Services in addressing nuisance properties in the neighborhood.
“This is a significant grant. It creates an opportunity for entities that have been doing some work in the area to bring their strategies and tools together in a much more collaborative and thoughtful way,” said Barbara Notestein, executive director of Safe & Sound.
Melendes noted that while Washington Park ranks high in crime, drug use and poverty, it has a lot to offer in terms of community involvement, which made the neighborhood prime for this type of grant, which depends on engagement from residents and community organizers.
“Washington Park is a good neighborhood with a lot of good people who live here,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity and capacity to reach and talk to residents.”
The Byrne Grant is research-based and grounded in qualitative and quantitative analysis. Kimberly Hassell, a criminologist at the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is currently examining crime data in Washington Park as part of the grant.
She also has gone door to door throughout the neighborhood to get a sense of residents’ perceptions of crime.
“The idea is that the crime data that we have now will form the base line of data against which we will measure our success in the future in whatever strategies and efforts we undertake,” Notestein said.
Hassell also will survey residents annually to determine whether the initiative is affecting the perception of crime in the area and whether it is strengthening relationships throughout the community.
Milwaukee is one of 14 cities to receive the federal grant through the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
“Money is a resource that is very critical and very helpful,” Notestein said. “To get us all working together and planning together and utilizing all of our skills and best practices is a complicated task.”