Cell phones reduce major urban crimes
A volunteer Cellular Citizens, Crime Watch Project has caused a sharp reduction in major crimes in many Dade County, Fla., neighborhoods, according to a recently published Florida International University (FIU) evaluation. The use of cellular phones by local crime watch groups ted to dramatic overall decreases in burglaries, robberies and thefts in 11 neighborhoods during the nine-month study period.
“The Dade County Neighborhood Cellular Watch Project is of value to communities experiencing an increasing or an existing crime problem,” says Mark Rosenberg, dean of FIU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs, which conducted the study.
FIU’s researchers found that within the combined 11 neighborhoods.
* Burglaries decreased 33 percent, from 341 to 229;
* Robberies decreased 24 percent, from 42 to 31; and
* Thefts decreased 9 percent, from 77 to 70.
Other positive effects of the project that were listed included.
* Volunteers believed that crime had decreased in their neighborhoods. Even volunteers who seldom used the phone believed that its use, or its potential use, had a deterrent effect upon the criminal element in their neighborhoods;
* Volunteers who had been Citizens, Crime Watch members for many years said the cellular phone renewed their feelings about their ability to make positive changes in their neighborhoods;
* Response to in-progress events by police appeared to be faster, according to many participating volunteers;
* Volunteers said they were willing to call police more readily about suspicious persons and other non-emergency situations. Without access to a cellular phone, their choices were not to call, to find a pay phone or wait until they arrived home; and
* The project brought neighborhoods and local police officers closer together.
“I see this cellular project as a model for other communities across the country,” says Ellen Johnson, president of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Dade County. “The cellular phone is a highly beneficial tool that provides extra eyes and ears to alert police during emergencies.”
“The use of phones appears to have a displacement effect,” says Fred Taylor, director of the MetroDade Police Department. “Criminals avoid neighborhoods with active cellular crime watch groups as opposed to neighborhoods without such a program.”
“The program also enables crime watchers to maintain contact with the police during in-progress crimes, thus providing police officers continuous, updated information while directing them to offenders,” he says.
The 12-month pilot project, which concluded in November 1995, was organized by a public-private partnership that included Citizens, Crime Watch of Dade County (a community-based operator), AT&T Wireless Services (a corporate provider), the Metro-Dade Police Department (a law enforcement provider) and FIU.
AT&T made a 12-month donation of 50 cellular phones and 200 minutes of free air time per phone each month.
Because of the project’s success, the company recently renewed its support in phones and air time for an additional 12-month period.
The FIU evaluation indicated that the best example of crime reduction occurred in Cloverleaf Apartments, a North Dade neighborhood that had been considered a high-crime area.
Burglaries fell 35 percent from 199 during the comparable nine-month period in 1993-1994 to 130 during the study period.
The project also led to the creation of a Neighborhood Response Team in Cloverleaf Apartments.
The Cellular Citizens, Crime Watch Project was launched in 1994 through the efforts of Bay Proby, president of Proby & Associates, Miami, and a former board member of the crime-fighting organization.
Lt. Jerry Rudoff, Metro-Dade Police Department’s Community Policing Bureau, formulated a plan to use the cellular phones in the 11 neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods that participated in the project were selected for geographic and ethnic diversity, as well as varying degrees of crime problems, current state of community and extent of neighborhood involvement and willingness to participate in the project.
Also, neighborhoods had to be active members of Citizens, Crime Watch in order to participate.
Volunteers from each neighborhood were instructed by crime watch and AT&T personnel about the use of the phones, safety issues concerning the reporting of crimes, liability and record keeping.
According to the research, each neighborhood did things its own way, based on personalities, level of crime and other factors.