ESCONDIDO—Escondido Police was struggling with the eternal question, what came first, the chicken or the egg?
In his case, he was trying to understand whether a rundown neighborhood was creating crime or if crime was creating a rundown neighborhood.
Then he realized it didn’t matter.
“That’s more of a question for academics and as a police officer, we should be concerned with solving the problem,” Valdivia said.
Out of this dilemma came the Neighborhood Transformation Project.
The Escondido Police Department is partnering with the Public Works Department, local faith-based organizations, and business and residential groups to create safer neighborhoods and enhance the quality of life throughout the city.
Each year, the department will choose a portion of Escondido to focus its efforts towards based on crime statistics.
They’re first targeting areas with high numbers of aggravated assault, robbery and auto thefts.
The program rearranges the way officers spend their time.
Officers are personally responsible for patrolling a specific area within the larger designated neighborhood, like an apartment complex, to increase police presence and reduce crime.
The collaboration aspect is extremely important.
The Public Works Department is working to increase lighting, cut trees and improve sidewalks to improve safety.
Overgrown trees make it tougher for people to see, especially at night.
“A lot of the public works demonstrates to the community that we’re serious about environmental change and the city is willing to make that investment,” Valdivia said.
The city’s Neighborhood Services staff is also working with the Police Department to address residential code violations in the specified neighborhood.
“When everyone starts taking care of their property, it does send a message to the rest of the neighborhood that people are paying attention, that crime and disorder are not tolerated and that people take pride in their neighborhood,” said Valdivia.
The pilot program launched to improve 55 blocks around South Escondido Boulevard in January 2014.
Valdivia said they learned that the first area they chose was too large.
“We figured out pretty quickly that it was just too much to tackle at one time,” said Valdivia.
Starting this January, they began working on 16 blocks between East Grand Avenue and East Valley Parkway with a western border of Harding Street and an eastern border of North Midway Drive.
On May 9, the police department held a community cleanup event.
Dumpsters were provided at no cost to the residents to get rid of large unwanted items, including refrigerators, mattresses and trashed furniture.
“We filled up three of these huge dumpsters,” said Valdivia.
Nearly 100 residents signed a letter of interest to participate in a monthly residential group that discusses problems in the neighborhood.
An East Valley Parkway Economic group was also formed to give business owners the chance to work with the Police Department on crime-related issues.
Since police will be moving to a new neighborhood after a year or a year and a half, mechanisms need to be in place to protect the changes that are made.
Valdivia hopes the residential and commercial groups will be the stewards of the progress.
The program doesn’t need additional funding from the city because no additional resources are needed.
Since the project is so new, police haven’t been able to monitor changes in crime activity although Valdivia is already impressed with the organizations that have stepped up and the level of collaboration and teamwork that he’s seen.