The 911 House

One day back in 1991 the inner-city residents of Columbia, South Carolina saw an all-too-common sight: a police car parked against the curb in their high-crime neighborhood. But this time the officer, patrolman James Brown, came not to make an arrest but to set up housekeeping. That's right. Officer Brown was moving his family into their newly-acquired home in the middle of a deteriorating neighborhood. In so doing he became one of the first in a small but growing number of innovative community policing programs: programs that encourage police officers to reside in high-risk areas where their twenty-four hour presence serves as a significant deterrent. The idea of having police live among the people they serve isn't new. But such police "residency requirements" have proved to be highly contentious and are viewed as coercive by the officers themselves. The Columbia police department has overcome this opposition by offering generous financial incentives to enable young officers to own a home years earlier than they could otherwise afford one. The incentives include low-interest and no-money-down mortgages--as well as paying for the renovation of homes which were once prime candidates for demolition. It was one such rundown home--whose street address was 911--that caught the eye of Officer Brown. As told to Walter Oleksy of Policy Review magazine, Brown said to his wife: "That house is meant for us." But one look and his wife and children weren't so sure. The one-story brick residence needed extensive repairs--and the neighborhood was experiencing an epidemic of burglaries. After nearly $30,000 in renovation costs--paid for by the Columbia police department--the Brown family moved into their new home. And they have now lived there happily for nearly five years. Brown says: "I dreamed of having my own home but never thought it would happen." No less significant is the positive impact that their presence has had in the community. Says Brown: "My neighbors say they see a big difference since my family moved in and I park my squad car out front. They tell me they sleep feeling safer knowing I'm here with them." There's good reason for feeling safer: Since 1991 the overall crime rate of the city has decreased 16 percent. Police chief Charles Austin gives much of the credit to the 11 police officers who have moved into some of the city's worst neighborhoods. Says Austin, "People . . . used to complain that police aren't really sensitive to the problems of the community. . . . Now they know that police officers live among them and do care." This week is National Police Week, our nation's sometimes overlooked tribute to the men and women in blue who serve and protect us--often in the face of great danger. This past year 162 police men and women gave their lives in the line of duty--the largest number ever to do so. Why not take this opportunity to thank the police officers who serve in your neighborhood. People like Officer Brown and his family, who have made a courageous move--one that is bringing positive renewal to their community.


Chuck Colson


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