Training to help locals ID and crime-proof sketchy spots

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The Van Buren Street Playground. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)

A community group is taking a new approach to public safety, training cops, city officials and citizens in methods for crime-proofing streets, parks and other public spaces. For two and a half days next month, participants will gather at the Everette Hodge Community Center to for in-depth training in Crime Prevention Though Environmental Design (CPTED) with National Crime Prevention Council trainer Charles Sczuroski.

The training is a joint project between substance abuse-prevention program Kingston Cares, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County and the Kingston Police Department. Kristen Wilson of Cooperative Extension said the project was part of the group’s A Healthy Kingston for Kids initiative, which aims to make city streets safer and more accessible for children walking and biking to school through education, planning and programs like the “walking school bus” which moves kids to and from George Washington Elementary School on foot.

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Wilson said that concerns about crime left many Kingston parents reluctant to allow their kids to travel through city neighborhoods unaccompanied.

“One of the deterrents to a child walking to school is safety issues,” said Kingston Cares program director Megan Weiss. “There’s a perception that [kids] don’t want to walk down this street because it’s not a safe street.”

The CPTED training is intended to address that issue by introducing and spreading through the community detailed knowledge of how environmental issues impact public safety. The concept is based on the premise that a city’s physical landscape can be analyzed and, if need be, altered to make it less attractive to criminals and safer for citizens. Some of the solutions, like replacing burned-out streetlights or trimming back overgrown shrubbery which can offer cover to an attacker, are obvious. Other techniques are more subtle — blind spots and dark doorways in close proximity to an ATM machine, for example, can offer tempting ambush points for robbers. Simply moving a dumpster so that it abuts a fence or wall can remove a hiding spot for lurking predators.

“Bad guys like to hide in the shadows,” said KPD Chief Egidio Tinti. “We know that, it’s something we try to address.”

Tinti, who ushered in an era of community oriented policing with an emphasis on crime prevention, said that his officers already pay attention to environmental factors. Cops note broken streetlights and the department follows through with calls to the appropriate authorities to fix them. When neighbors reported drug use and other problems at a small park near the Boys and Girls Club, an officer surveyed the spot and coordinated with the city’s recreation department to trim back some bushes that were providing cover for the misdeeds. Kingston cops respond to thefts from vehicles or burglary sprees by going door to door in the affected neighborhood, passing out flyers with tips on what cops call “target hardening.”

Wilson said she hopes the training will expand that kind of knowledge beyond the police department and into the community at large. “We want to build the capacity of the community as a whole to combat crime,” said Wilson. “Instead of it just being the police department’s job.”

Four Kingston cops will participate in the training. But, Wilson said, other spots are reserved for members of city departments including parks and recreation and the Fire Department’s building and safety division. There are also slots reserved for nonprofit groups’ members of the public and business owners. The training costs $187 per person, but Wilson said the there are 20 full scholarships available thanks to sponsorship by the city’s Office of Community Development, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, MAC Fitness and the St. Joseph’s School. The group is hoping to garner funds to offer at least 10 more scholarships.

“Basically, we want this to be open to everybody who has a stake in Kingston and wants to work hard,” said Weiss.

The work will begin immediately, with a survey of nearby Van Buren Street Park as part of the training. The park, which stands on a former vacant lot on a residential street, has seen complaints about poor lighting and blocked sightlines that allow drug use or other illegal activity to go undetected at night. Wilson said project organizers hoped to identify one or two more “hotspots” that training participants could focus on, both during the seminar and later as part of a committee charged with implementing CPTED principles citywide. Wilson said that the police department had already sent Sczuroski detailed crime maps for several spots in Kingston so trainees could begin focusing immediately on local issues.

“This is going to be two and a half days of intensive training,” said Weiss. “But the real work is going to begin afterwards.”

The training is scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 14 and from 8 a.m. to noon on Aug. 15 at the Everette Hodge Community Center on Franklin Street. Applications for the training and scholarships are available at www.healthykingston.org or at the HodgeCenter. To become a sponsor, contact Kristin Wilson at (845) 340-3990.

There is one comment

  1. The Red Dog Party

    I walk the streets in this neighborhood constantly. I commend Kristen Wilson and the KPD in their efforts to make the streets of Kingston safe. I advocate beat cops and cops on bicycles; this is by far, the most effective deterrent against crime. Getting to know the residents will inspire trust and greater cooperation between the police and the people. Aggressively enforcing violations, from trash, broken windows,and loose and aggressively threatening pit bulls (Jonesy and I were attacked on 2 occasions recently) will go a long way in making our streets beautiful and safe.

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