Palm Beach County, Florida

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

Palm Beach County, Florida

Target Area: The City of Lake Worth Beach's South End - Population 12,500

BCJI Awardee: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

Research Partner: Barry University

Focus Areas: Gangs, Opioids, Violent Crime, Unregulated Sober Homelessness, Unemployment, Limited Opportunities for Youth

BCJI Funding Year: FY2018

Neighborhood Characteristics

The South End spans approximately two square miles and is comprised of 76 city blocks. The racial and ethnic breakdown for this area is estimated to be 50 percent Hispanic, 30 percent African American, 10 percent Haitian American, and 10 percent Caucasian. There is also a large Central American immigrant population living in this area, many of whom speak Mayan and other indigenous languages. The mean age for this area is younger than the remaining Lake Worth Beach population with an estimated 35 percent between the ages of 18 and 34. More than 48 percent of this population live at or below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.

While the overall crime rate for the City of Lake Worth Beach is high compared to other similarly situated cities, most violent crimes and drug overdoses occur within the South End. Several factors contribute to the staggering, disproportionate violent crime rate. First, the City is home to over 30 separate, documented gangs, the majority of which live and "work" in the South End. One such group is MS-13, known for violent crimes, as well as drug and human trafficking crimes. Second, the City of Lake Worth Beach has been severely impacted by the opioid epidemic. In 2017, there were 565 overdose incidents and 74 overdose deaths, most of which occurred in the South End. Third, there is a high rate of homelessness in the South End and persons who are homeless are particularly vulnerable to crime and jeopardized personal safety. This population has flourished in the South End for several reasons: the South End's central location within Palm Beach County; the result of substance abuse disorder relapse and related discharge from one of the abundant sober home facilities; the extreme poverty experienced in the area; and, in the case of undocumented immigrants, related housing challenges.

Planning Phase

The core Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) project partners, who initially included the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office (PBSO), Barry University, the City of Lake Worth Beach, Lake Worth's Community Revitalization (CRA), Healthier Lake Worth, BRIDGES of Lake Worth, the Guatemalan-Maya Center, For the Children, the Southeast Behavioral Health Network (SEBHN), and The Lord's Place, recognize that a coordinated, multi-faceted approach is required to meaningfully and sustainably improve the South End community. Their collective goal is to reduce the proliferation of crime, increase mutual trust between community members and community stakeholders, and ultimately improve overall safety and quality of life. 

During the Planning phase, the core partners developed an enhanced, collaborative strategy that incorporated the following primary goals:

  • Goal 1: Develop a multidisciplinary, cross-sector South End Leadership Council to include community members and community stakeholders.
  • Goal 2: Make data-driven decisions based on the prevalence, scope, and nature of crime drivers, crimes, and population.
  • Goal 3: Engage community members through outreach, community education, and Council participation.
  • Goal 4: Implement a comprehensive, evidence-based law enforcement strategy in coordination with local, sate, and federal law enforcement agencies.
  • Goal 5: Provide an array of services to meet the critical needs of persons living within this community.

Implementation Strategies

Themes emerged throughout the Planning Phase data collection process that helped inform the site's Action Plan. The BCJI team developed an enhanced collaborative strategy that incorporates the following goals:

  • Goal 1: To improve safety and neighborhood quality by enhancing collaboration and trust between law enforcement, community partners, and residents.
  • Goal 2: To increase access to resources and services.

To meet the first Action Plan goal, the site will utilize the following strategies:

  • Establish a multi-disciplinary, cross-sector South End Leadership Council that will support collaborative efforts among stakeholders.
  • Enhance police-resident relationships through both place-based and community policing strategies.
  • Install additional lighting and cameras in identified hot spots that enhance neighborhood safety.
  • Offer training opportunities to stakeholder organizations on topics like trauma-informed care, racial equity, Cost of Poverty Experience simulations, and prearrest diversion.
  • Conduct quarterly community forums to give residents an opportunity to voice their concerns and learn about available resources.
  • Create yearly events that will allow residents to come together to celebrate their community and promote engagement.
  • Integrate art to improve community safety and turn neglected areas into community assets.

To meet the first Action Plan goal, the site will utilize the following strategies:

  • Provide a resource guide that will provide information and increase awareness regarding resources and available services.
  • Increase youth programming that enhances positive outcomes for youth by creating opportunities for young people to connect with others and build life skills.
  • Facilitate collaborations between Leadership Council members to build mutual support as they work toward neighborhood enhancements.

Other Key Partners

The Leadership Council was established early during the Planning Phase of the project, wherein key community stakeholders were identified, meetings were convened on a monthly basis, and project planning, progress, and updates were coordinated and memorialized. 

Leadership Council partners include the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office; Barry University; City of Lake Worth Beach; Community Revitalization Agency; For the Children; COMPASS; The Lord's Place; Palm Beach County Victim Services; Palm Beach County Justice and Reentry Services; Department of Juvenile Justice; Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network; U.S. Attorney's Office; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; Drug Enforcement Agency; Homeland Security; Justice Service Center; Bridges of Lake Worth; New Hope Baptist Church; Neighborhood Associations of Lake Worth Beach; City Leisure Services; West Palm Beach Housing Authority; and the Guatemalan-Maya Center. These partners represent law enforcement and criminal justice partners, governmental and non-governmental agencies, community service providers, the faith-based community, and our research and project evaluation partner. Additional partners will be added as project needs arise and partners are identified. 

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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