Albany wants to bring back Weed and Seed initiative - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Albany wants to bring back Weed and Seed initiative

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May 15, 2006

Albany--Most mornings this time of year, you can find Ella Miller tending her garden. "It's very relaxing," Miller said.  But this is no ordinary garden. "Oh it's doing nicely. We're very pleased with it." She says "we" because this is a community garden. "It brings the community together," Miller said.

A few years back, the Weed and Seed Program turned a rundown lot on North Washington Street into a place where as many as 18 groups or individuals can let their garden grow. "It has really helped this area, see how beautiful it is," Miller asked as she watered her rows of vegetables.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice chose north central Albany as a Weed and Seed community. Over the next five years, the city got about three quarters of a million dollars to weed out crime in this area and plant seeds of positive growth. Albany Police Department Lt. Tracey Barnes said the program is all about "thinking outside the box, using different law enforcement techniques and different law enforcement agencies to weed out the bad element in this area."

Albany police conducted drug sweeps and road blocks and extra patrols. A committee of people connected to the community helped start parenting classes for fathers and a summer program for kids. The cops and the neighbors say it worked. "When we finished in 2005, we had seen a 37% drop in violent crime in the area," Barnes claimed.

Our analysis of Albany Police crime statistics show a different story. The last two years before the program took hold, there were 80 and 106 violent crimes respectively in the Weed and Seed neighborhood. In the most recent two years, 80 and 99 violent crimes were reported. That's about a 7-percent decrease.

Still, supporters like City Commissioner Morris Gurr are convinced the program plants the seeds of success. "Community projects come in and seed the area with good things, whether it's outreach programs or a new building or a new business going in where it was just a vacant lot," Gurr said.

On a tour of south Albany neighborhoods with a code enforcement official, he sees many rundown properties that attract drug dealers and other criminals. That's why he's working to get a Weed and Seed designation for this part of town. "I saw the difference in north central Albany when that took place, and it definitely could have a difference here," Gurr said.

Weed and Seed did bring many changes to north Central Albany. "You see where old boarded up houses used to be. Now, they're gone. They're greenspaces," Lt. Barnes said.

Dozens of dilapidated buildings were demolished and overgrown lots were cleaned up. It helped make way for a new senior living center near Phoebe Putney Hospital and helped bring a renewed sense of pride to an area where people often felt overlooked. "It's pride, it certainly is pride," said Ella Miller.

Even though the federal money is gone, some of the Weed and Seed programs continue to grow.  Things like the community garden where Miller tenderly tends to her crops. To her, this garden is a microcosm of the neighborhood. "In the next week or so, I'll start putting just a little fertilizer on it, but it has to catch root first," she said. It takes hard work to make it turn out the way she wants, so she'll keep on weeding and seeding. "Give us about six more weeks, hear?" And pretty soon, she'll have a horn of plenty to show for it.

Right now, 270 communities nationwide are getting Weed and Seed money. Statistics from the Department of Justice show that crime rates often go up intially, partly because the Weed and Seed program encourages more people to report crime. Over time, crime usually goes down. One study showed a 30% decrease in homicide rates in the third year of Weed and Seed programs.

Competition for the grants is increasing. This year, just one Georgia city got a Weed and Seed designation. Budget cuts and new guidelines will make it even harder to be accepted to the program next year.

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