PAWTUCKET — The Barton Street Tot Lot, a slice of land that was once a weed-choked eyesore and is now a cheery play area for youngsters, served as a fitting backdrop for Monday's ceremony honoring recipients of the 2011 MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Award.
The MetLife Foundation recognized the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation (PCDC), the Pawtucket Police Department and the Central Falls Police Department for their creative efforts to improve quality of life and build a strong multi-city and multi-agency partnership to address crime in the Barton Street area.
Additionally, PCDC received $20,000 to advance the partners' joint public safety activities.
The Pawtucket winners were selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants for one of 10 MetLife Foundation honors. The award is funded by MetLife Foundation, which has long supported neighborhood-based efforts to tackle crime and improve safety, and is administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC's national Community Safety Initiative promotes strategic community development and policing through creative partnerships.
Representatives of the PCDC and both the Pawtucket and Central Falls Police Departments gathered at the Tot Lot, at the corner of Barton and Broad Streets, to receive the awards from Michael Bennett, manager with the MetLife Foundation. Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King, Central Falls Major James Mendonca, PCDC Executive Director Nancy Whit and PCDC Project RENEW Director Colleen Daley Ndoye were among the speakers at the event who talked about the improvements to the long-blighted neighborhood and the efforts to help its residents.
In handing out the awards, Bennett noted that this is Pawtucket's second MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Award. The PCDC and its police partners were also honored with a Neighborhood Revitalization Award in 2006. “This is the only time in our history that this award has gone twice to the same city,” Bennett noted.
Bennett spoke of the many challenges that face a sweeping community initiative such as this one, and noted that it requires “a lot of discipline, hard work and vision.” He added, “This is a real grassroots effort.”
According to the Rhode Island Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), in the Barton Street neighborhood along the Pawtucket/Central Falls line, strategic safety efforts have been made that include integrating high-quality affordable housing, economic development, gardens and playgrounds with effective community policing. The PCDC's Barton Street Neighborhood Revitalization Project has engaged both Pawtucket and Central Falls Police in a process of analyzing crime problems and jointly responding to achieve sustainable change, stated LISC.
In addition, the PCDC has collaborated with police on its RENEW program to help prostitutes move off the street and into jobs and housing that give them new opportunities. In the process, RENEW has eliminated a significant source of blight and crime in this area, LISC noted.
“Safe neighborhoods are one of the key outcomes of the Sustainable Communities development strategy that builds off of LISC's core mission: to build strong neighborhoods and healthy communities,” said Jeanne Cola, executive director of Rhode Island LISC. “We congratulate the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation and the Pawtucket and Central Falls Police Departments for their achievements. This is a partnership that has demonstrated award-winning results and is a model for reducing crime in other neighborhoods throughout Rhode Island.”
“PCDC is proud to have positively impacted Pawtucket and Central Falls on a city-wide, neighborhood and individual level through its partnership with the Pawtucket and Central Falls Police Departments,” said Nancy Whit, PCDC executive director. “Statistics like the 90 percent reduction in prostitution arrests in Pawtucket over the past five years become much more than numbers when you dig deeper to see the dramatic impact that it has on both the residents of the neighborhood as well as the commercial sex workers themselves.”
Whit added, “This kind of transformation is only possible when PCDC's development investment goes hand-in-hand with community safety efforts—producing a comprehensive approach to revitalization the leverages the works of our public safety partners.”
Major Arthur Martins of the Pawtucket Police Department said the relationship that the department has with PCDC is “a true form of community policing.” “We are committed to achieving the same goals which are to make our neighborhoods safer places for people to live, work and visit,” he said. “It is also a professional partnership that has developed into friendship that we are extremely proud to have cultivated. The beneficiaries of this relationship are the residents of the neighborhoods we have impacted. They can now live peacefully without the threat of crime interfering with their daily lives.”