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City Council considers request to extend Weed & Seed program

Police and city officials are requesting the Rock Hill City Council's support and funds to continue the Weed & Seed initiative, now that the initiative's grant funding has ended.

They'd also like to add Saluda Street and a nearby area known as the Triangle to the five streets already included in the program.

Five years ago, Weed & Seed set out with intentions of "weeding" out crime activity in certain neighborhoods and "seeding" in services and programs directed at empowering residents, aided through $800,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Five neighborhoods were targeted: Hagins/Fewell, Sunset Park, South Central, North Crawford Road and Flint Hill because police determined 27 percent of all violent crime in the city occurred in those areas.

In a council workshop Thursday, Lt. Rod Stinson and Dorene Boular, Weed & Seed coordinator with the city, shared the initiative's successes.

Police worked with departments, neighborhood associations, organizations, churches and residents through various programs, including COMPSTAT, junked and derelict vehicles, Crime View and Gift Cards for Guns.

Through COMPSTAT, a crime-tracking data program, officers were able to discuss crime trends and find solutions, specifically targeting high-crime areas.

"Because of COMPSTAT putting people where they need to be, we were able to catch that person," he said.

In 2003, there were 145 violent crimes reported in these neighborhoods, Stinson said. In 2010, that number had dropped to 62, marking a 53 percent reduction.

Statistics also showed crime happens within 50 feet of a junked or derelict vehicle. So, police worked with the city's neighborhood inspections personnel to either have the owner remove the car or have the car towed.

Another success was the Gift Cards for Guns program, where people could bring in any type of gun for a gift card. A total of 30 guns was collected.

Within the "seed" part of the initiative, Boular said there were four main goals: increase the number of residents who are homeowners; increase the number of housing rehabilitation projects; reinforce and revitalize focus neighborhoods; and find a safe location for community-based educational activities.

All of those goals were achieved, Boular said. Several programs were successful, such as the CRAVE summer camp, a mentoring program known as BROTHERS, Shift, Change and Believe, a group dedicated to combating gang involvement and Taking the City Ministry, which offers services including counseling, child care and transportation to each neighborhood.

The Department of Justice funding was beneficial to all of this, Stinson said.

"We see it as being extremely efficient in Rock Hill," said Ray Koterba, director of housing and neighborhood services for the city. The loss of funding directly affects Weed & Seed in two ways, he said: the overtime pay for officers responding to incidents in the areas and the level of service the "seed" programs can provide.

Stinson agreed. Currently, they've had to halt most of the measures they were taking within the initiative and stick to direct patrols.

"We want to continue doing information door-to-door with information about Weed & Seed," he said. "We also want to get out to business owners."

Koterba told officials they are looking for grant money elsewhere.

Mayor Doug Echols noted the "impressive work" that has been done through the initiative.

Councilmember Kathy Pender said she hoped they would find a way to continue providing the services. She also hoped programs geared toward job skills and training could be added.

The original Department of Justice grant was about $800,000 over the 5-year period. Weed & Seed officials are requesting about $50,000.

Echols said he'd like to see the long-term effects of the intiative, as in, making sure youths who participate in some of the "seed" programs stay out of trouble.