04/17/2000

Creative Problem Solving Saves a Neighborhood

Five years ago, the Broadway business district in Green Bay, Wisconsin was a disaster area. Trashed by a population of transient alcoholics and drug addicts, the neighborhood was scary to most residents and almost devoid of investment. But that was before Green Bay Officers Bill Bongle and Steve Scully, along with the rest of the department, decided to do something about it. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, but with persistence and creativity the cops were able to bring the neighborhood back to life – something most people think is beyond the ability of police departments. The two officers and their co-workers were singled out for the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem Oriented Policing from 76 other nominations for the honor. Bongle was assigned to the district in its worst days back in 1995. Immediately he noticed several violations of law that were unenforced. Rampant public drunkenness and urination in addition to panhandling made the district a dangerous place. Liquor licenses were not checked out and if you could stand up, someone in the area would sell you a drink. The officers began a five-step revitalization plan that began with an agreement with liquor store owners not to sell to the neighborhood's worst offenders. After that part went over pretty well, the Green Bay cops turned up the heat with a zero-tolerance approach. Park benches were modified to prevent people from sleeping there and offenders were prosecuted for the slightest infraction. Public lighting was increased and bars were required to deny patrons re-entry once they had left. The most difficult task was getting the city to crack down on liquor license violations. “It seemed that no matter what happened,” Bongle said. ”Their licenses got approved anyway.” When the city council refused to act, Bongle and Scully went to the tax payers, who picked up the phone and called the city councilors. Then things started to change. Today, you wouldn’t recognize the area. Overall, the efforts by Officers Bongle and Scully and their colleagues have resulted in a net investment by the city in the neighborhood of over $8 million. Abandoned buildings are being converted into growing businesses and families are back. “It’s a pretty cool place to shop and you can take your kids down here now,” Bongle said with pride. And why not? Saving a person is great, but saving a whole neighborhood is something that just doesn’t happen very often.

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