This article appeared in the California Parks & Recreation magazine and describes the connection of parks and recreation agencies with safety and security.
Strengthening Safety & Security
By Renee Groese
Public Information Specialist
City of Redlands Police Department
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursdays, a residential cul-de-sac neighborhood in Redlands comes alive with recreational activity for youth. For two hours each Thursday, kids ranging from toddlers to young teens enjoy each other’s company as employees from the Redlands Police Department’s Recreation Bureau and officers from the Police Department get the kids to interact and have fun with the Department’s Recreation-on-Wheels, (Rec-on-Wheels) program. For several years, recreation staff had been conducting a similar type program, called “The Kangaroo Crew” at various neighborhoods and in the local parks. In 1998, when James R. Bueermann took the helm as Chief of Police, he approached the Recreation staff and asked if they could bring a similar program to a neighborhood that was suffering from low neighborhood attachment, risk factors, and blight.
The neighborhood, located along Brockton Avenue and Lombard Drive in Redlands was chosen because it is populated with mostly young children living in an area blanketed with community disorganization. The Department, under the direction of Bueermann, has evolved to “Risk Focused Policing” where risks are considered and programs are implemented based on the risks of the particular area. When the strategies of this type of policing were being discussed, it was brought to Bueermann’s attention that the area of Brockton and Lombard was found to have a high degree of nuisance crimes between the hours of 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. It was not uncommon to see abandoned vehicles, discarded old furniture, and piles of trash in the neighborhood. Criminal activity ran amuck, and children seemed to have a disinterest in respecting law enforcement. Things have changed.
The introduction of the Rec-on-Wheels program has rejuvenated the area. Now each week, youth in this neighborhood cannot wait ’til 3 o’clock. The program entails nipping crime in the bud, before it is out of control, hence the police department motto “Controlling Crime Before It Occurs” - which is all a part of the big picture and strategy at the Redlands Police Department.
The goal of the program was to create a feeling of community while giving something positive for children to do after school, so that they would hopefully choose to not resort to criminal behavior. Rec-on-Wheels is in its third year of operation and all signs point to it being a very successful program. Kids like 13-year-old Abel Habte eagerly await the program each week to come to the neighborhood. “No more bad stuff is happening here anymore,” Habte said.
Rec on-Wheels was not immediately accepted in the neighborhood when it began. Looks of puzzlement and hesitation were on lots of faces in this area when recreation staff members showed up and tried to get the kids to come out and play. However, that was three years ago and not only have things changed but time has worked as a positive factor for the success of Rec-on-Wheels. Now, according to Recreation Superintendent Denny Sattler, the neighborhood has transformed from bad to good.
“They love when we are out here, and can’t wait for us to come back,” Sattler said.
Derek Schott, Recreation Program Coordinator, who did the original planning and ideas for Rec-on-Wheels, said the benefits of this program to strengthen safety and to bring about a feeling of community is unrivaled. The fact that police officers participate in the program strictly to play with the kids has brought an even stronger sense of community as well as safe feeling to the neighborhood. Not only has a strong bonding occurred between the kids, Recreation staff and officers, but also support for this program continues to pour in.
Last summer, an officer whose hobby is racing stock cars brought his car to the Rec-on-Wheels program. The kids were in awe. Each week they asked when Officer Mike Rinehart would return with his car. One Thursday, Rinehart surprised everyone by showing up, not just with his car, but also with 50 tickets to the Speedway to see him race. The kids were off and running to their parents to take them. Neighborhood parents saw this as a great opportunity for their kids, and they all got together and decided on who would drive to the Speedway. There were several parents and children at Speedway that day watching Officer Rinehart race. It was a fun and meaningful event the kids will not forget.
Each week, recreation staff members bring a variety of games to Rec-on-Wheels. But it’s not all games. During the school year, homework assistance and tutoring is also available. The Police Department brings out its Mobile Communication bus. The bus seats many people and allows for kids to not just check it out, but also to get help with their homework from the officers and recreation staff.
The recreation staff drums up ideas each week to provide the kids with fun things to do. Annie Stadler is one of the staff members who was instrumental in getting the parents in the neighborhood to understand the program during its inception, which included going door-to-door in the neighborhoods and passing out surveys.
“We did two different surveys, and both were bilingual,” Stadler said. Stadler is bilingual herself and spent a great deal of time communicating with mostly Spanish speaking parents. Questions on the survey ranged from their thoughts on the recreation program in their neighborhood to what kind of activities or programs would they like to see take place in the neighborhood.
The recreation staff strives to keep things interesting, fun and informative at Rec-on Wheels. In addition to the games, homework assistance and visits from stock race car driver Mike Rinehart, the recreation staff takes the kids on field trips, and they invite guest speakers to attend Rec-on-Wheels too. Last fall, nurses from Redlands Community Hospital did immunizations for the kids.
The Rec-on-Wheels program is partially funded by a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). In addition to the CDBG funds, last summer the Redlands Police Department received $20,000 after they were chosen as a finalist in the Innovations in American Government Award Program.
Based on the success of the Rec-on-Wheels program at the Brockton and Lombard site, the city of Redlands is considering expanding the program to other areas of the city. Currently, research and statistical work is being done at the Redlands Police Department to help determine which areas would most benefit from another Rec-on-Wheels program.
Now the kids have formed friendships with police officers, recreation staff and a variety of people. Some have even found mentors through the Rec-on-Wheels program.
Another positive note is the fact that crime went down 36 percent in the area where Rec-on-Wheels began, and the city as a whole continues to experience a downward spiral of criminal activity. This is news that Chief Bueermann and all members of the Police Department believe is important to share with the community. The youth will continue to enjoy the advantages of positive programs and interaction with people they may never have known if the opportunity was never presented to them. The City of Redlands will also continue to reap the benefits of decreased crime and enhances quality of life in a city that strives to put the community first.