By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — Members of City Council discussed Thursday how increased investment in the Parks and Recreation Department and its youth engagement programs can affect crime in the city.
Salisbury Police Chief Stokes and Department of Parks and Recreation Director Nick Aceves outlined the department’s needs and how the two can work to tackle rising crime. Stokes said the police follow a “layered policing model”, which uses evidence-based practices through problem-solving, analysis and accountability. The most important strategy for the department is policing “hot spots,” he said, which uses data to focus on areas where crime occurs most frequently and most severely. Stokes said focusing on these key areas continues to be an evidence-based strategy, but the department needs improved gang intelligence gathering capacity to better identify those involved in violence.
Additionally, while foot patrols and increased police visibility have been effective against crime and citizens’ fear of crime, personnel limitations have been a challenge, he said. .
From 2004 to 2011, Salisbury employed a Project Safe Neighborhoods program coordinator and funded the program through grants. In 2017 it became a county-wide collaboration jointly funded by Salisbury City Council and Rowan County Commissioners, but the county cut funding for the program in 2020, Stokes added.
Stokes said the Rowan Project Safe Neighborhoods program has been successful in recent years, but needs revamping. He recommends a greater focus on providing services to offenders with alternatives to violence, which can be done by developing a multi-agency community initiative.
“I think we can do better in this program,” Stokes said.
This is where the city’s parks and recreation department comes in. Aceves cited the recent $800,000 grant to improve the West End neighborhood and said similar measures could be rolled out across the city. He noted the success of summer camps for K-5 students and after-school programs that were halted during the pandemic.
Aceves said the city has been successful over the years in securing grants, donations and sponsorships, but these are not long-term sustainable sources of funding and some more budget money is needed. He said the amount of Salisbury’s investment in special event programming and funding for parks and recreation is lower than surrounding communities. While Salisbury invested approximately $63,600 in the department for special events and programs in 2020-21, Iredell County invested $141,900, Cabarrus County invested $325,000 and Kannapolis invested $854,000. . Although Aceves said Kannapolis was a bit of an outlier in the amount of their investments.
Council members asked Aceves to return to council with a list of priorities and budget amounts for summer camp programs and any additional programs that could improve community well-being and safety. Aceves said staffing is also an issue in his department and facilities need upgrading. He said the department has been discussing ways to use the Fred M. Evans Pool during the colder months to continue serving area youth.
Currently, Aceves said the department can sponsor about 26 children for summer camp and an afterschool program. But board members have expressed interest in investing more money to reach many more children.
Mayor Karen Alexander said, particularly since the shooting at Catawba College last month, there appears to be an opportunity for the city to work with the county, which should have millions more dollars to fund the school system through to COVID-19 funding, and partner with the Rowan-Salisbury Schools system to meet children where they are.
“We should get our fair share,” Alexander said. “We are in crisis.
Board members noted the effect of the pandemic on children and the impact of not having such programs in place for children. Alexander said reaching out to children and giving them the opportunity to keep them off the streets can have an impact on overall crime in the city. She cited the lower crime levels seen before the pandemic, the spike in crime since the start of the pandemic as well as after Parks and Recreation ceased its youth engagement programs and said she “knows that it can be corrected”.
“The data is there to show how important parks and recreation are to our city and the money we spend on public safety,” Alexander said. “It’s very powerful in determining where the problem is and how we can solve it.”
Stokes also cited an added element to the Rowan Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which is now the year-long Cease Fire initiative. A partnership between the SPD and the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, it aims to increase community engagement and trains volunteers to act as gun violence de-escalators. Stokes said the community has seen some success after community walks have taken place in hotspots since the program’s inception in 2020. However, Stokes said that after the program launched year-round in 2021, there was only one dedicated volunteer de-escalator, who is Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black.
Stokes said programs in other places such as Chicago and Boston include paid staff who typically have a background in social services to help. And since the SPD currently does not have any mental health crisis specialists who can join officers on relevant calls, the city may need to consider paid positions for crisis de-escalators and co-responders. Mental Health. These employees could also help refer patients to the county’s post-overdose response team.
“I hope we take note that we are in the midst of a crisis,” said board member Anthony Smith.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.