Oklahoma County project addresses beautification as well as criminal activity
Date: October 11, 2010
More than just a beautification project, Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere is an effort to address problems with gangs, drug use and transients near parks and schools and in neighborhoods, Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said.
- Oklahoma County -
The story of the "broken window" isn`t a broken record. I heard it time and again in a span of about an hour and a half, but it was pertinent.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan drove me around areas of southwest Oklahoma City talking about the SHINE program, an acronym for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere.
The effort includes graffiti removal, litter pickup and cleaning up unattended areas of trees in Maughan`s district.
We drove through a concrete drainage ditch where both sides of a five-mile stretch once caked with gang graffiti, but recently covered with gray paint. We went past an area of overgrown trees among which they have found syringes and another clump of trees with two mattresses and empty liquor bottles. The last two are on the future projects list.
Maughan also introduced me to several community leaders. And at least four times, I heard the story of the "broken window." It explains the purpose of this program the commissioner initiated in the spring along with assistance from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City Public Schools, the courts, Chesapeake Energy and others. More than just a beautification project, it is an effort to address problems with gangs, drug use and transients near parks and schools and in neighborhoods, he said.
"If you just let one broken window set, then the next thing you know someone doesn`t care and they spray paint that place," Maughan said. "Then someone doesn`t care and they don`t mow the grass. Then someone doesn`t care and the trees get all grown up around it.
"The problem comes from letting that first broken window stay that way. So we`re really doing everything we can to get it back down to that first problem ... showing the gangs and everyone that we do care about the neighborhood."
With strapped budgets government entities didn`t have the money and manpower to fix the broken window or the deterioration that follows.
So Bob Ravitz, public defender of Oklahoma County, suggested to Maughan a program that would use a combination of nonviolent offenders sentenced to community service and volunteers, and paint donated from the community, to address graffiti.
The commissioner organized and initiated SHINE.
In about 30 projects, the program has used 12,000 hours from corporate volunteers or individuals.
This program also has used 6,000 hours of community service time. Why is this important?
Maughan said the Oklahoma County jail spends $450,000 in inmate health care costs per month. So instead of sending some nonviolent offenders to jail they are sentenced to community service in the SHINE program.
In the summer, that included removing graffiti in the concrete ditch or from along a wood fence. This winter it will likely include clearing ice and snow from public walkways or parking lots instead of hiring private contractors.
"They bypass jail, they come out here and they really have to work, I mean really have to work," Maughan said. "I`ve told the judges to send me as many people as they can through the system with as many hours as they feel are justified. The one assurance that I give them in return is that I will always have something for the person to do."
Besides benefiting the neighborhood, Ravitz said it hopefully will provide the person doing community service a sense of pride.
"One of the biggest problems with people, especially in terms of substance abuse, is a lack of self-worth," Ravitz said. "When you see that you`ve made a positive impact on your community it makes you feel good."
The cynicism in me came out when thinking about graffiti removal. What makes you think they won`t just come and do it again?
"They will," Maughan said. "While we`ve been out here working, they`ve come back and tried to paint right behind us. They were out here this morning and were very upset that it is gone. They will come back, but citizens are donating paint and so we will keep coming back too. When we came out here with Chesapeake and those assigned from the courts, the Oklahoma City police gang unit came out and took pictures of the graffiti and they can tell a lot from that."
Driving down a residential street, Maughan said "this guy here won`t let us paint the fence, he`s scared of the gangs."
Identifying the issues
Maughan said SHINE is about trying to determine the factors that detour economic development and stable neighborhoods.
Behind Capitol Hill High School were trees planted in the early 1970s that had gone unattended. That resulted in 10 acres of heavily wooded area with weeds, rats and signs of transient activity. Instead of cutting down all the trees, the program is cleaning the area up.
The program also cleaned up overgrown clumps of trees across the concrete drainage ditch from an Oklahoma City children`s water park.
"I think that the kind of repeat efforts to make sure that when places are cleaned up they stay cleaned up adds to that perception that somebody cares," Councilman Pete White said.
HOW TO HELP
Those who want to donate items such as paint or who want to volunteer for the SHINE program can contact District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan at 713-1502.