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Positive Change Through Policy

This guide features examples of policies that schools, localities, and states across the United States have implemented to create safer communities.

Introduction

The examples provided are meant to promote your interest in policies that can help make your community safer, particularly for young people. Also included are descriptions of programs that are a result of policy. After the examples are questions to help you learn more about local policies and your community’s needs. However, this document makes no claim as to the effectiveness of any of the policies or programs it presents.

How can this guide help me?

You may be a parent who has taught children to say no to drugs. You may be a teacher who has implemented a bullying prevention program in your school. You may be a law enforcement officer who promotes neighborhood safety. Or you may work at a community center that gives young people a safe afterschool program.

Your work with these types of crime prevention activities helps make young people and communities safer. Implementing crime prevention policies is another way to enhance community safety. Working with programs, schools, the local city council, and state lawmakers to create crime prevention policies can benefit the community in several ways:

  • Policies can be far-reaching. Policies often impact large numbers of people - everyone in a community or all schools in a district. This creates consistency and an understanding that everyone is on the same page.
  • Policies can be long lasting. Sometimes programs or projects exist because one individual puts in the time and effort to run the program. If that individual can no longer work on the program, the program may stop. For a policy to be implemented, it generally must have the support of many people. Even if an individual leaves a job, a policy will continue to exist.
  • Policies can make individuals accountable. Once a policy is enacted, everyone is responsible for following it. If a policy is broken, the group who created the policy may impose negative consequences on anyone who violates it.
  • Policies can guide future decisions. Working to create crime prevention policies today paves the way for future activities and projects that will implement the policy.
  • Policies signal a commitment. Policies are not made based on the passion of a single individual but on the combined commitment of many. All individuals who support a crime prevention policy must devote time, energy, and other resources to implement that policy and ensure its success.

What is a policy?

A policy is a defined course of action that helps guide decisions. A school district may have policies that create safe learning environments for students. City-wide programs and initiatives may develop and use policies to create change and build safer communities. A state government may have certain policies that help guide the creation and implementation of laws regarding anything from preventing youth from abusing drugs to forming safe schools. To learn about policies in your community, contact your local government or school board.

In the topics below, read examples of policies that have addressed the issue as it relates to young people. Following the examples are questions to help you learn more about policies in your community.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs

On July 17, 1984, Ronald Reagan signed a law proclaiming 21 as the minimum drinking age in the United States. This legislation helped prevent young people from drinking alcohol and driving irresponsibly. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, teenage deaths in fatal car crashes dropped considerably - in some cases up to 28 percent - when laws moved the minimum drinking age to 21. Many states and communities have enacted a variety of policies to help prevent underage drinking as well as underage cigarette use and drug use.

  • Fremont, NE, no longer allows people to bring their own booze to events held on public property. Due to numerous complaints concerning underage drinking and intoxicated people at receptions, reunions, and other celebrations held at city-owned facilities, individuals can no longer purchase and serve their own alcohol at these events. Municipal leaders passed legislation (PDF) that allows only licensed caterers, nonprofit organizations, and onsite retailers to serve alcoholic beverages on public property.
  • Rhode Island passed legislation prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to minors via the mail. Since the legislation was approved, those selling tobacco through the mail or on the Internet must verify that the buyer is over 18 years old via current, government-issued identification or face a minimum fine of $1,000 per package delivered.
  • Wisconsin legislature, concerned about the growing use of methamphetamines, recently enacted a law to reduce the availability of the materials used in drug production. The law requires that anyone wishing to purchase products that could be used to make methamphetamine present a photo ID. Moreover, children under the age of 18 are prohibited from purchasing such products.

Think about alcohol, tobacco, and drug policies for minors in your area and the preventive measures you can take in order to keep youth safe. The questions below are provided to help you find out more about policies in your community.

  • How does local law enforcement ensure that businesses comply with minimum-age-to-purchase policies and laws?
  • Are there policies regarding the availability of alcohol at community events or on public property?
  • Does the local school have a policy related to educating young people about alcohol, tobacco, and drugs?

Bullying

Bullying is the repeated and systematic harassment of an individual or group by another and can include a variety of harmful behaviors such as hitting, teasing, threatening, spreading rumors, damaging belongings, and excluding others from social groups. Read more information on bullying. Due to increased awareness of bullying and in the wake of school shootings, school boards and lawmakers devised policies that address bullying in schools and communities. Thousands of schools have implemented bullying prevention policies that include activities and programs designed to improve school climate and safety.

  • Schools in Southern Westchester County, NY, developed a policy that signaled a commitment to bullying prevention. The policy pushed school officials to provide counseling for children who bully and provide incentives for bullies to change their behavior, cooperate with peers, and empathize with victims. Moreover, the program works with victims of bullying to bolster self-assertive behavior (From NCPC’s 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime).
  • To promote a healthy and safe academic environment, the West Virginia state legislature enacted a law requiring county school boards to develop and adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying on school property and at school-sponsored events.
  • Texas state legislature goes beyond promoting anti-bullying policies in schools to allow the parents of bullied students to request that their children be transferred to another classroom or school. The bill also requires that all schools display a student code of conduct that delineates disciplinary actions for young people who bully.

Contact your local school to ask if it has a specific anti-bullying policy. The questions below are meant to spark your thoughts on youth safety by learning about the anti-bullying strategies and preventive activities offered in your school district.

  • How does the policy define bullying?
  • Does the policy list consequences for bullying behaviors?
  • Has the policy prompted the school to adopt bullying prevention activities?
  • Has the policy led the school to offer preventive training for its teachers, staff, and students?

Graffiti

Graffiti has a negative impact on community members’ sense of safety because it can signal the presence of gangs and be used to intimidate others. The populace may feel that there is little caring and respect within the community when a building that has been vandalized with graffiti is not cleaned. Potential criminals may view the community similarly, prompting other delinquent acts. Many communities have adopted policies to combat graffiti, which have allowed them to devote resources and create programs to address the problem.

  • In 1984 New York City developed a graffiti-prevention initiative by implementing the Clean Car Program to rid the subway system of graffiti. Although the program began over 20 years ago, it remains one of the most well-known anti-graffiti efforts. The program developed in order to combat the fear of criminal activity on subway cars. Previous attempts to clean the subway, as well as punish taggers, were unsuccessful. The program was based on the notion that the key to graffiti prevention is timely removal because spaces that have been visibly tagged are more likely to be tagged again. The New York program aimed to remove graffiti from cars within two hours of application. Within five years of the program’s implementation, all of New York City’s subway cars were graffiti free. The initiative was determined a success because officials were committed to rid the subway of graffiti, used a problem-solving approach to crime reduction, and coordinated the administering institutions.
  • Kansas City, MO government officials adopted a policy in an attempt to prevent delinquent youth from acquiring the supplies necessary to make graffiti. The policy prohibited minors from purchasing spray paint and broad tip markers and forbade minors to possess these tools for tagging while on public or private property from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
  • The city of Anaheim, CA, recently adopted an anti-graffiti ordinance that will require individuals who are arrested for vandalism be charged for the cost of graffiti removal. In a further attempt to combat tagging, business owners must keep aerosol sprays or other items that could be used to make graffiti behind sales counters.

Think about graffiti and vandalism in your community. If you don’t know about graffiti policies in your area, consider posing the questions below to local law enforcement officials and community leaders.

  • What is your community’s policy related to graffiti?
  • Does the policy state what will happen if graffiti is spotted? Does it state who is responsible for its removal?
  • Does the policy include a commitment to educate young people about graffiti and how it can damage a community?

Hate Crimes

Federal law (PDF) defines a hate crime as a criminal act committed against someone because of that person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, or disability. Hate crimes can include assault, vandalism of property, threats, and harassment. Not only do they cause emotional and psychological harm, but they also can exacerbate racial, religious, or ethnic tensions in the community. Enacting legislation to address hate crimes can allay community members’ fears and put in place ways communities can prevent hate crimes. Federal legislation to combat hate crimes prohibits specific intimidating actions and general behavior motivated by bias, and enhances penalties for criminal acts motivated by bias. Some states and communities have elaborated on the federal hate crime definition in order to protect and support more minority groups.

  • California legislature passed a bill requiring the state Department of Education to create a standard school reporting form that includes hate-motivated incidents and hate crimes. The legislature hoped that hate crime reporting would spotlight bias-based crime, allowing school officials to properly combat these crimes in a manner different from other student-related conflicts, such as bullying.
  • In December 1999 the San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance was formed in San Fernando Valley, CA, to organize the community and effectively combat bias-motivated crime. The alliance has united local police officers with community volunteers to offer training and education to increase hate crime reporting, to develop a community support network for victims of hate acts, and to prevent acts of intolerance through education and respect for diversity. The Hate Crimes Alliance has developed programs for students to learn about diversity.
  • In 2002 Pennsylvania amended its existing hate crime legislation (the Ethnic Intimidation Act). The initial anti-hate crime law coincided with the federal definition, but the state legislature amended the law (PDF) to include malice toward others due to their gender identity. This hate crime legislation is more extensive than federal law, as it protects transgender persons from bias-based crime.

Become aware of hate crime policies in your local school and community. The questions below are to help you learn more about hate crimes and diversity awareness in your community.

  • Does your local school offer diversity awareness programs?
  • Is an anti-hate crime policy part of your local school’s rules?
  • Is there a policy related to reporting and documenting hate crimes?

Unsupervised Youth

Children and youth who are left unsupervised after school and in the evenings are more at risk of becoming victims of crime, engaging in delinquent behavior, and developing academic problems than those young people who are supervised. Children need safe and constructive afterschool activities to help prevent their involvement in dangerous or delinquent behavior. According to Frances Kemper Alston of New York University’s Child Study Center, “unsupervised children are more likely to become depressed, smoke cigarettes and marijuana and drink alcohol; they are also more likely to be the victims of crimes.” City-wide curfews and afterschool programs are constantly developing as one way to prevent youth-related crime and victimization.

  • The city of Charlottesville, VA, adopted a curfew for minors in 1996. While the community was not riddled with crime or youth gang violence, city officials and law enforcement officers wanted to protect youth who were riding bicycles or loitering on the streets at night. The curfew ordinance (PDF) was designed to “promote the safety and well-being of the city’s youngest citizens, whose inexperience renders them particularly vulnerable to becoming participants in unlawful activities, especially unlawful drug activities, and to be victimized by older perpetrators of crime.” The ordinance also underscores the need for parents to be responsible for their children’s safety.
  • In 1998 the city of Boston, MA, developed the After School for All initiative to decrease juvenile crime, reduce the number of children who are victims of crimes, increase academic achievement, improve school attendance, and decrease school dropout rates. The organization works to expand access to afterschool programs for children, sustain funding for programs, and improve student learning. The success of the After School for All program allowed for the 2004 development of the Boston After School & Beyond program, which works to build community awareness of both the necessity and the availability of afterschool programs.
  • To safeguard students during the critical hours from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., the Los Angeles mayor developed the afterschool program LA’s BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow). The nationally recognized program offers free afterschool care and education to students ages five to 12 throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. Aside from daily homework help, recreation, and learning activities, LA’s BEST offers arts, science, fitness, and literacy programs. The University of California, Los Angeles, evaluated the program and found that students with higher levels of participation in the LA's BEST program had better school attendance and higher scores on standardized tests of mathematics, reading, and language arts.

What do you know about community afterschool programs, curfew ordinances, and truancy laws? Ask local schools or council members the following questions if you are unaware of programs and policies regarding unsupervised youth.

  • How are parents and young people educated about curfew policies in your community?
  • Do schools or community centers have policies regarding afterschool time?
  • Have the policies helped establish programs or activities that give young people safe places to go and positive things to do?

More Resources

The following resources will provide you with more information on policies that affect children and youth and their safety. Also, read lesson plans on various crime prevention issues.

ACLU.org – The American Civil Liberties Union has extensive information on writing and negotiating effective policy available on its website.

SafeYouth.org – The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center has information for parents on bullying, gang violence, and substance abuse.

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