By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer
Action in Muskogee’s Safe and Secure Initiative committee’s goal is to reduce crime overall, said the committee chairperson, the Rev. Marlon Coleman.
But the Safe and Secure Initiative committee members will need many more volunteers, plenty of time and financial assistance in the coming years to truly make a difference, he said.
“Crime isn’t something we can fix overnight,” Coleman said. “We are looking at ways to reduce or even eliminate crime — and that’s a very tall order.”
The committee is seeing their research and discussions come to fruition with two projects soon to begin — a mentoring program for elementary-age kids and a neighborhood outreach program. But those projects are just the tip of the iceberg of what AIM participants hope to achieve.
The group is looking at the city’s methamphetamine problem, juvenile crime, burglaries and violent crimes.
“Our initiative does not focus on one particular demographic or one particular crime. This is about helping people and focusing on all crime,” Coleman said.
Muskogee’s crime rate in 2011 was the eighth highest in the state, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent statistics. Muskogee is the eleventh most populated city in Oklahoma.
The FBI crime rate is defined as the number of crimes reported compared to the population of the city.
One out of 16 people in Muskogee reported they were a victim of a crime in 2011. By comparison, one out of 26 residents of the state overall reported they were a victim of a crime in 2011.
The first action the initiative committee will get under way is visiting at-risk neighborhoods and getting to know the people in those communities and helping them learn to police themselves, Coleman said.
The most at-risk neighborhoods were identified through crime reports that show the largest clusters of police calls, he said.
Volunteers will begin in August making visits in groups, talking with people, maybe having barbecues or picnics, and more.
“When I was growing up everybody looked out for one another on our street,” Coleman said. “We want to try and reinstill that sense of community into others. We want the people who know their neighbors best to be more hands-on in protecting one another.”
Safe and Secure committee member Arch Chapman said he’s looking forward to seeing the results of the upcoming neighborhood visits.
Chapman volunteers with Extra Eyes and the Muskogee Citizens’ Police Academy Association, and he answers phones at the police department once a week.
Chapman and Coleman both said the Muskogee Police Department has been helpful throughout the AIM process and will be involved in the neighborhood visits, as well.
“We are going to start going to high-risk areas to meet residents, let them know the police are their friends and we are their friends,” Chapman said. “We’ll go down to places where the police say ‘Don’t go by yourself. Always go as a group.’ And we’ll just go and meet with the people.”
Chapman said volunteer and positive law enforcement presence in neighborhoods go a long way toward helping reduce crime.
“The Muskogee Citizens’ Police Academy, Extra Eyes and some police officers had a great time at Spaulding Park a few years ago,” Chapman said. “Neighbors had complained they had a drug problem there, and we went and had a watermelon picnic and the neighbors came out and joined us.”
And now, Chapman said, he doesn’t hear about there being a big drug problem around Spaulding Park.
“So now it’s not so bad, but did we help?” he said. “I hope we did, because we plan to work with other areas in the same way.”
Chapman said participants at early AIM meetings identified younger children as needing intervention and mentoring in Muskogee.
“You get to the kids early enough and you will make an impression on them,” Chapman said.
So, the Safe and Secure committee has been looking for proven programs to work with children and youth, he said.
Boys and Girls Club and other activity and mentoring programs have been explored by several initiative committees and continue to be a topic of discussion and research.
However, the first program to come to fruition will be a faith-based children’s tutoring and mentoring program through local churches, Coleman said.
One reason it will begin first is the committee doesn’t have to find funding or volunteers for the pilot program which will begin in October, he said.
The Whiz Kids program costs about $1,800 per 20 children served each school year. Antioch Baptist Church has committed to financially sponsor the first group to get it started, Coleman said.
St. Mark Baptist Church, pastored by Pastor Rodger Cutler, who is also an active member of the Safe and Secure committee, will also be a Whiz Kids sponsor, he said.
According to the Whiz Kids website, www.whizkidsok.org, Whiz Kids is a faith-based, one-on-one volunteer tutoring/mentoring program that has been very successful in Oklahoma City.
The program focuses on first- through sixth-grade students who live in areas which have some of the highest drop-out rates and lowest socioeconomic levels.
Muskogee schools have the second-highest drop-out rate in the area, and 80 percent of its students are receiving free or reduced lunches because of poverty in the area, according to State Department of Education statistics.
The program targets students who are reading below grade level and who could benefit most from a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult, the website says.
“Ideally, the schools will help us identify the students who need assistance, but it will all be voluntary participation,” Coleman said. “Students will go to area churches for tutoring and mentoring. In Oklahoma City they are providing transportation, either through the schools or churches and we hope to do that as well.”
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.