Erie, Pennsylvania

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

Erie, Pennsylvania

BCJI Funding Year: FY2019

BCJI Awardee: City of Erie

Research Partner: Mercyhurst Civic Institute

Focus Area: Eastside Neighborhood - Population 8,855

Challenges: Violent Crime, Drugs, Blight

Neighborhood Characteristics

Erie's Eastside neighborhood was identified as a core neighborhood in the city's adopted comprehensive plan, Erie Refocused. A core neighborhood is one that directly adjoins to the city's downtown employment center. This denotation makes core neighborhoods priority areas for stabilization and improvement.

The city is focusing on the Eastside for their Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) project to help stabilize one of the most disadvantaged and under-resourced parts of this community. Over the past two years, the city has spent a great deal of time and effort understanding the people who live, work, and support this neighborhood. During the Summer of Hope campaign, canvassers went to 400 households, distributing community surveys to determine resident priorities. Additionally, Erie launched the Count Me In initiative in conjunction with the Hamot Health Foundation, which surveyed 658 households on the social determinants of health. These survey results provided a clearer picture of the barriers to employment, health, wellbeing, and household stability.

The target neighborhood experienced years of decline in resident wellbeing, community safety, housing quality, and opportunities for upward mobility. Increases in crime and resident feelings of disenfranchisement have resulted in stability, a lack of resident and business investments, and an overall negative perception of the area. This small neighborhood represents a substantial percentage of crimes, despite being home to only 8.8 percent of the city's total population. Over the past four years, relative to citywide crime rates, the Eastside accounted for 26 percent of aggravated assaults, 22 percent of shots fired, 28 percent of drug offenses, 33 percent of criminal homicides, 21 percent of simple assaults, and 22 percent of robberies.

The Summer of Hope canvassing campaign identified crime reduction as the highest priority for residents. Forty-nine percent ranked this as their first or second priority. The Count Me In survey identified that the top issue for the Eastside, and the city as a whole, was crime. Residents identified drugs, blight, and litter as other top priorities, indicating disinvestment and decline in Erie's Eastside.

An estimated 43 percent of Eastside residents live below the poverty level, compared to 16.7 percent in Erie County. Roughly 7 percent of Eastside residents 25 years of age and older have a college degree, compared to 35.4 percent in Erie County, and 27 percent of adults did not graduate high school or complete a general equivalency program, compared to 9 percent in Erie County. The Eastside has a racially and ethnically diverse population. While Erie County's demographics are over 88 percent Caucasian and 35 percent African American or Black. Some blocks in the Eastside have up to 73 percent of the population from racial categories other than Caucasian. The neighborhood also has a significant number of refugees and foreign-born residents.

Erie is home to organizations like Catholic Charities, the International Institute of Erie, and the Multicultural Community Resource Center (MCRC) that provide support for newly arriving refugees and immigrants. The International Institute of Erie estimates that nearly 20,000 immigrants now live in Erie, accounting for about 20 percent of the city's population. Refugees choose to live in the Eastside for reasons like the availability of low-cost housing and proximity to agencies like MCRC. The BCJI project takes this diversity into account and builds in cultural competencies for partners with language services for limited-English speakers.

Planning Phase

During the Planning Phase, BCJI practitioners will meet with the Eastside's existing network of partners to determine the best outreach method to recruit additional stakeholders. The effort will build upon previous engagement efforts performed during the Summer of Hope and the Count Me In initiative by scheduling in-person meetings and distributing invitation letters for BCJI activities. The principal research partner, Mercyhurst Civic Institute (MCI), is working with the Erie County Data Center, which has been analyzing crime statistics and identifying hot spots of criminal activity for the city since 2019. MCI will coalesce data from the census, Uniform Crime Reports, existing surveys, and community and stakeholder focus groups, as well as consult with experienced entities to refine the strategies and budget. Once the data is collected and analyzed, MCI will assess and provide recommendations for revisions. The partners will continuously revise strategies as needed. MCI will provide trends in crime data for the Eastside and help the BCJI project team identify additional hot spots of crime in the Eastside. Additional data sources and metrics will be refined during the Planning Phase in cooperation with the cross-sector partners.

A Neighborhood Concerns Index survey will be completed and analyzed during the Planning Phase to identify the Eastside's unique needs. Survey results will help focus services on addressing these needs and inform community-based organizations operating in the neighborhood, including ServErie. The Erie Police Department will implement a multi-faceted law enforcement intervention program in conjunction with the expanded partnerships. The enforcement strategy will help identify risk factors that lead to problem behaviors, and promising crime solutions, such as those made available through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.s. Department of Justice. Using the Communities That Care public health model of problem solving, MCI will analyze responses to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) and other archival data during the Planning Phase. MCI will assess whether the risk factors of community disorganization and family conflict remain the area's most prevalent youth-related problem behaviors. During the 12-month Planning Phase, BCJI practitioners will collect and analyze data and resident input, identify hot spots, modify budgets and work plans based on planning information, and implement an Early Action Project. Data collection and hot spot identification will be ongoing to track crime trends and establish systems to identify crime drivers.

Strategies for the Implementation Phase will be centered around the following project goals:

  • Increase residents' sense of ownership and responsibility through increased participation and development of the neighborhood groups
  • Increase neighborhood partnerships and leadership infrastructure through multi-sector representation in the neighborhood groups
  • Increase neighborhood involvement and accountability through the implementation of collaborative, evidence-based planning, resulting in a comprehensive neighborhood Action Plan
  • Increase resident awareness of services and resources through the creation of a community service directory to be circulated throughout neighborhood groups
  • Increase the feelings of safety among residents and decrease citizens' fear of crime through awareness and training, as measured through a community pre- and post-survey
  • Decrease violent and gun-related offenses as measured by official arrest reports and formal police incidents
  • Improve community-police relationships

Other Key Partners

Booker T. Washington Center, Climate Changers, ServErie, Sisters of St. Joseph, local neighborhood watch groups, SNOOPS, Erie Police Department, Erie County District Attorney's Office, Office of the Assistant U.S. Attorney, World Database on Protected Areas, Eastside Eagles, Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network, Erie Neighborhood Growth Partnership and the Neighborhood Resource Organization, Erie County Human Services, the Greater Erie Community Action Committee, Erie County Reentry Services and Support Alliance, PPC, Erie County Juvenile Probation, the Erie Blue Coats, City of Erie School District, Erie County Department of Health, City of Erie Public Housing Authority, Erie County Prison, Erie County Office of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Bethany Outreach Center, Erie County Office Department of Human Services, Multi-Cultural Community Resource Center, International Institute of Erie, St. Martin Center, East Side Eagles, Erie Redevelopment Authority, Catholic Charities, St. Benedictine Education Center

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues.

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