SEATTLE – Less than two weeks after after the City of Seattle announced that it had been granted nearly $1,000,000 in federal funds to help address youth violence in the Rainier Valley, the City Auditor released a report indicating that little of the more than $13 million Seattle spent last year on crime prevention actually had a strong to moderate effect, and that some of the City’s efforts may even be increasing crime.
“Evidence-Based Assessment Of the City of Seattle’s Crime Prevention Programs” – dated Sept. 5 – was written by City Auditor David Jones and Assistant City Auditor Claudia Gross Shader. The paper’s subtitle asks “What Have We Learned, and What Should We Do Next?”
According to the report’s cover letter, Jones and his team worked with George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) to produce a comprehensive report on the effectiveness of Seattle’s crime prevention programs.
To do so, they examined a list of the City’s crime prevention programs that had been compiled by the City Budget Office (CBO) in May 2011. The list contained 63 programs, including approximately 137 City employee positions and more than $13.2 million in contract dollars. However, according to the CBO, most of the 63 programs had no measurable outcomes and failed to provide evidence of what difference their activities made.
In fact, Jones and his team found that the City has made large investments in programs that are inconclusive in their ability to prevent crime.
“This category includes 35 programs totaling approximately $11 million in annual City expenditures (including contracts and City staff estimated at $100,000 per FTE),” says the report’s summary. “These include City programs that resemble programs with weak research evidence, or that resemble programs shown to have mixed results in reducing crime. This category also includes City programs that do not resemble any programs that have been scientifically researched.”
What’s more, three Police Department programs apparently have the potential to increase rather than decrease crime.
“Three programs in the Seattle Police Department, with a total of up to 13 officers assigned, appear to be similar, according to their descriptions in the CBO May 2011 report, to programs that research has shown might have the unintended consequence of worsening crime rather than reducing it (i.e., “backfire” effect),” adds the report’s summary. “These programs include a truancy program, a school emphasis officer program, and a proactive gang prevention program.”
Summary of Evidence for the 63 City Programs and 2011 Funding Levels
- Strong/Moderate Evidence of Effectiveness:
17 City programs significantly resemble or are replications of programs with strong (5) or moderate (12) potential for effectiveness in reducing crime ($2.9 million/21 full-time staff positions).
- Inconclusive Evidence of Effectiveness:
35 programs are inconclusive in their potential for reducing crime, including 9 that resemble programs with weak but positive supporting research evidence, 12 that resemble programs that do not have supporting research but do have supporting theory that indicates that they might be effective in reducing crime and 14 that resemble programs that have some evidence of mixed results on reducing crime ($3.8 million/72 full-time staff positions).
- Evidence of Potential for Increasing Crime:
3 programs seem to resemble programs that have some research evidence that indicates possible “backfire effects” – i.e., potentially worsening crime rather than reducing crime (13 full-time staff positions).
- Unable to Match to Research or Theory:
8 programs do not resemble any programs that have existing research evidence or any theory that indicates that they could be effective in reducing crime ($4.8 million/1.25 full-time staff positions).
Photo/Will Austin Photography