Keeping Kids Safe
According to the Safe Kids U.S. Summer Safety Ranking Report, unintentional injury remains one of the leading causes of child deaths with more than 2,000 dying each summer from injuries that could have been prevented. Prince George’s County, Maryland, is doing its part to reduce injuries and deaths through its Safe Summer program. The late-night recreation initiative, run by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation was designed to help keep young people safe and off the streets.
Safe Summer uses innovative programming and safety education to combat the usual spike in juvenile crime that many cities and metropolitan areas experience during the summer months. Through comprehensive planning and programming, both the recreational components of the Department and the Park Police were able to build a strong foundation to serve the youth and communities of the county.
“Safe Summer is a valuable program for Prince George’s County and its youth. We are able to reduce crime and foster excellent relationships with the citizens,” said Chief Larry Brownlee of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Park Police.
Safe Summer started as a pilot in 2008 at five community centers and one local YMCA branch, serving more than 7,000 youth. The second year, the program expanded to 28 sites and recorded more than 41,000 visits from youth. This year, Safe Summer will include 24 community centers, fitness and aquatic centers, and public school sites—with the goal of 50,000 visits from young people across the county. More than 200,000 young people reside in Prince George’s County, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Safe Summer is designed to accomplish the following for youth:
- Increase involvement in physical, cultural, social, and environmental activities
- Enhance awareness of community, health and safety issues, and responsibility
- Improve self-image and sense of personal well-being
- Decrease criminal activity and violent behavior.
The Safe Summer program is free to all participants, and offers a variety of positive and enriching recreational opportunities from five core program areas:
- Health and physical education.
- Arts and cultural awareness.
- Social recreation.
Recreational programs at the sites include swimming classes, conflict resolution sessions, health and nutrition courses, basketball and other sports programs, visual, and performing arts classes—including acting, painting, and sculpture. Other events include nature activities designed to get the young people into the outdoor world and increase awareness of their environment. There are also teambuilding and self-esteem-building exercises and various other community activities to attract young men and women. Parks and recreation professionals provide mentoring to small groups and individuals throughout the weeks of Safe Summer. Many of these relationships tend to carry over into school-year programming and activities.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Park Police and the Prince George’s County Police collaborate throughout the summer to patrol facilities and engage young people in positive activities. Last year, up to 36 officers were mobilized on a nightly basis from 9 p.m. to well after midnight to provide security as well as to offer activities and interact with youth.
Programs such as Trading Places, in which youth portray police officers and officers portray young people, help to increase the group’s conflict resolution skills. Through this activity, relationships are formed and youth gain a better understanding of the many roles of the officers and as well as an increased respect for officers. The officers also provide the R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) program, teaching a number of young women self- defense skills. The Fatal Vision program has been a huge success through the years. In this program, teens wear goggles to impair their vision to simulate driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Then, teens either ride tricycles or try desperately to walk a straight line. The youth are amazed that they are not able to complete the task at hand, giving officers a perfect opportunity to discuss why it is important not to use alcohol and drugs.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that violent crimes, property crimes, and simple assaults peak during the summer. Safe Summer addresses crime as a major concern and identifies the reduction of criminal activity as a key outcome. Here are some of the results:
- Prince George’s County’s Safe Summer program contributed to making communities safer, with 79 percent of Safe Summer sites experiencing a reduction in crime from 2008 to 2009.
- In addition, 77 percent of participating youth reported they were not as bored and were less likely to get involved in criminal activity due to their Safe Summer participation.
- 59 percent of young people reported that they had a positive conversation or encounter with a police officer.
- 75 percent of the parents reported that their child will participate in the program again and the program reduces the likelihood of their child getting in trouble.
Officer Greg Ford of the M-NCPPC Park Police said that the youth were highly engaged and it created an atmosphere for further positive dialog. The Park Police crime analysis for the Safe Summer program indicated a significant amount of crime reduction at the 28 safe summer sites, particularly in comparison to surrounding areas within a half mile radius (see table).
Due to the success of the program last year, the M-NCPPC Department of Parks and Recreation has committed to making the program a success again this year by extending its hours of operation, and thereby extending the power of recreation and play, which directly ties into one of its motto: ”We are extending our hours to empower.”
2010 Safe Summer kicks off on June 25 and ends on August 21. For more information, please visit www.pgsafesummer.com.