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weed and seed community policing

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Weed and Seed program was developed to demonstrate an innovative and comprehensive approach to law enforcement and community revitalization, and to prevent and control violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in target areas. The program, initiated in 1991, attempts to weed out violent crime, gang activity, and drug use and trafficking in target areas, and then seed the target area by restoring the neighborhood through social and economic revitalization. Weed and Seed has three objectives: (1) develop a comprehensive, multiagency strategy to control and prevent violent crime, drug trafficking, and drug-related crime in target neighborhoods; (2) coordinate and integrate existing and new initiatives to concentrate resources and maximize their impact on reducing and preventing violent crime, drug trafficking, and gang activity; and (3) mobilize community residents in the target areas to assist law enforcement in identifying and removing violent offenders and drug traffickers from the community and to assist other human service agencies in identifying and responding to service needs of the target area. To achieve these goals, Weed and Seed integrates law enforcement, community policing, prevention, intervention, treatment, and neighborhood restoration efforts. The Weed and Seed program is being implemented in more than 150 communities across the country.

National Weed and Seed Program — U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Weed and Seed

The Executive Office for Weed and Seed (EOWS) within the Office of Justice Programs is responsible for overall program policy, coordination, and development. EOWS also serves to enhance the law enforcement and prosecution coordination among Federal, State, and local agencies, and coordinates with other cooperating programs and agencies such as Ameri-Corps, Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities, and the Comprehensive Communities Program.

While the activation of opposition cannot be held up as an accomplishment of the strategy as a whole, community investment in seeding initiatives can be a positive outcome of its decentralized design. However, this shows how both success and failure are projected on the neighborhood level, while program elements are highly dependent on a host of state and local institutions. Community groups in the Crawford-Roberts neighborhood were similarly included as seeding strategists, but they were not granted access to seed funding until two years into implementation. Both by history and design, Operation Weed and Seed is thus a hallmark of a neo-liberalism in theory and in practice, which, as Harvey (2005) emphasizes, delegates state responsibility, projecting accountability on a more local and individual level.

When President Bush introduced the Weed and Seed Act of 1992, Congress was not receptive to the bill. It wasn’t until later in the year, after the Los Angeles riots had gained significant media attention, that funding was appropriated for Weed and Seed under the Tax Fairness and Economic Growth Act of 1992 (Ruben 1994). This provides support for the notion that crises energize reform efforts, and as Gilmore argues, particularly those that reinforce standing social orders. The result was a combination of mass incarceration, harsh sentencing, and a limit on rehabilitative programs and services.

The Weed and Seed strategy is a prime example of the way in which the post-Keynesian penology is able to reproduce the crisis of crime, and thereby create a steady supply of prisoners. Weeding in targeted neighborhoods results in more arrests, and consequently in more incarcerated community members. During incarceration, these community members are unable to participate in the labor market, maintain personal and professional connections, or contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of family members (Solomon, Fischer, Le Vigne and Osborn 2006). Upon release, the majority of reentering prisoners stay with their families, returning many to the neighborhood in which they lived prior to incarceration with relatively little to offer (Visher and Farrell, 2005). Meager job prospects, untreated mental and physical health conditions, few public benefits, and sometimes major debt accumulations (one study found that a quarter of prisoner respondents owed an average of $25,000.00 in child support) make reentering prisoners difficult community members to re-integrate successfully (Solomon, Fischer, Le Vine and Osborn and 2006). In effect, the weeding component ends up concentrating disadvantage by maintaining the socio-economic conditions correlated with crime.

Weed and Seed, a federal initiative that started in the 1990s, seeks to improve economic and social conditions for residents in poor urban neighborhoods by removing criminals (weeding), and implementing programs designed and administered by conglomerates of state, local, and community level actors (seeding). This paper, however, seeks to outline the necessary questions about the program’s as yet unmeasured socio-economic outcomes. It argues first that the potential impact on targeted neighborhoods goes largely unaddressed in the strategy’s design, and ultimately threatens to undermine substantive neighborhood improvement. It further argues that while the project’s flaws may be cast as the perpetual imperfection of social policy and implementation design, they are instead products of the political-economic context in which they are embedded. In other words, it argues that Weed and Seed is a product of the neo-liberal state and reflects policy decisions that privilege capitalist development, re-enforce small-scale social spending, and the mass incarceration of the US prison system.

Certainly, improving the conditions of poor urban neighborhoods and increasing community involvement through crime reduction and social programming are practical goals at the state and local level. In some cases, crime reduction, improvements in the way that residents felt about their neighborhood, and institutional collaboration are positive outcomes of the Weed and Seed strategy. What remains is a question of whether these positive outcomes create substantive gains for the communities in which the strategy is implemented. While further research is needed to answer this question, the studies included in this paper suggest that prisoner re-entry presents significant challenges for ex-offenders, their families, and the communities. These findings stimulate further questions about the net social value of a policy that seeks to improve poor neighborhoods by removing residents without providing any support for their inevitable return. In looking forward, it’s important to understand Weed and Seed as a product, not an artifact, of social policy-making in a neo-liberal environment, one that continues to be reproduced in urban communities throughout theUnited States. For this reason, it is imperative that the socio-economic impact on targeted neighborhoods is carefully studied moving forward so that the design of the Weed and Seed strategy can be enhanced to ensure maximum benefit for urban communities.

At the federal level, the Weed and Seed strategy is intentionally vague, thereby delegating most design, implementation, and funding mechanisms for initiatives to local and community leaders (OJP 2009). The logic of the Weed and Seed model largely frames criminals and uncoordinated service provision as the primary obstacles for socio-economic growth in blighted urban neighborhoods. In other words, “weeding” criminals out of neighborhoods, and “seeding” in local service programs marks a departure from the Keynesian model of welfare that proliferated in the 1960’s and 70’s, a model that framed federally funded cash and in-kind public assistance programs as America’s preferred anti-poverty edifice. This divergence is most pronounced in the Weed and Seed strategy’s reliance on theU.S.prison system as an institution instrumental to keeping criminals out of targeted neighborhoods. Further, politicians aligned the strategy to neo-liberal ideals that position capitalist development as a viable strategy for improving conditions in poor neighborhoods, providing legitimacy for small-scale social spending and mass incarceration.

This paper argues that Weed and Seed, shaped by a post-Keynesian penology, is a strategy that satisfies a contemporary neo-liberal agenda that effectively reproduces class stratification. It begins by describing, in more detail, the Weed and Seed strategy, then illustrates the concept of a post-Keynesian penology, and lastly explores the strategy as it relates to the neo-liberal agenda. To provide a richer understanding of the relationship between the post-Keynesian state and the US prison system, the paper draws on Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s (1999) theory of the post-Keynesian militarism, as well as the work David Harvey (2005) and William Sites (2003) to provide a historical framework of neo-liberalism, and to provide critical points of analyses through which to demonstrate that Weed and Seed is a product of the neo-liberal state.

Post- Keynesian Penology

The initial state of a site has many implications for the success of a W&S program. The important factors include community social service infrastructure, crime levels, economic factors, and the rate of residential turnover within the community. With rapid turnover, the long-term community involvement and support for the seeding efforts of W&S are difficult to achieve and sustain. Once W&S funding is implemented, “early seeding, sustained weeding, high-level task forces combined with community policing, and an active prose-cutorial role are critical elements of program design” (Dunworth and Mills 1999).

The majority of sites expanded or strengthened community policing efforts by dedicating officers to specific geographic areas. Though community residents would often protest weeding activities, fearing targeted harassment or discrimination by police, the community policing focus helped to improve relationships between communities and police, and led to increased public confidence in police in a number of locations. The result was a greater potential for making police-community partnerships sustainable after W&S funding was phased out. Little follow-on research has been done to see if this was in fact the result.

Typical seeding efforts fell into the following categories, in rough order of frequency: youth prevention and intervention programs, neighborhood restoration, community building and development, adult job training and employment programs, family support services, and community economic development activities.

Factors for Success

A Weed and Seed Steering Committee identifies target neighborhoods and then seeks to establish local partnerships that will implement a specific strategy to reduce violence, drug trafficking, and crime, and provide a safe environment for residents.

The national evaluation (Dunworth and Mills 1999) found that:


The number of funded sites has grown steadily, from twenty-one immediately after the demonstration to more than three hundred in 2005. Site funding levels have declined as a consequence of this growth because congressional appropriations have not changed in proportion to the increase in sites. In the early 1990s, roughly 36 sites were funded at $750,000 per year for four or five years. By 1997, about 120 sites were funded at $250,000 per year. In 2005, few sites got more than $150,000 annually, though funding is the same for all sites. Current sites range in size from a few blocks to several miles in area, with populations between three thousand and fifty thousand. While typically within a city, some sites are county based.

“Multi-agency task forces concentrated on the target area, although they pursued drug cases across jurisdictional lines” (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Increased police presence was funded through additional staffing and overtime, and a majority of sites assigned dedicated officers to the target area. These approaches helped build relationships with residents and aided enforcement through better local knowledge and intelligence, an increased ability to operate proactively, and enhanced communication between residents and police. ”Weed and Seed provided a vehicle for mobilizing residents to participate in crime prevention. Responses ranged from increasing neighborhood watches, to community meetings, to a citizens’ advisory committee that provided guidance on law enforcement priorities” (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Violent and drug-related crimes were especially targeted by these efforts.