Blight and crime in Hickory Hill earned the Southeast Memphis neighborhood the nickname "Hickory Hood," but with a 36 percent drop in violent crime in 2010 compared to 2006, that negative moniker may no longer apply.
The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission has identified Hickory Hill, the Broad Avenue Arts District, and Midtown North as communities that have made great strides in reducing crime since the 2006 launch of multi-agency crime-fighting strategy Operation Safe Community and the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Blue Crush data-driven policing.
The Broad Avenue Arts District in Binghamton has shown a 41 percent decrease in violent crime in 2010 compared to 2006. Violent crime in Midtown North, home to Hyde Park and the Hollywood-Springdale community, decreased 24 percent during the same period.
Citywide, violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery — dropped 24 percent in the past four years.
"There's no better answer to the crime problem than Blue Crush," said Colonel Anthony Rosser of MPD's Ridgeway Station, the precinct that includes Hickory Hill. "Utilizing statistical data from the University of Memphis allow us, in real time, to find out where crime is occurring and to deploy officers in those areas."
Blue Crush, which relies on statistics to determine crime "hotspots," is one of 15 strategies outlined in the Operation Safe Community plan.
Although the strategies are credited for the crime decrease, the engagement of the community has been vital, according to Olliette Murry-Drobot, CEO of the Southeast Memphis Community Development Corporation.
"The folks who were scared off by the negative press about Hickory Hill left, and the residents who are here now are very committed to the area and are very involved in their neighborhood," Murry-Drobot said.
She said the World Overcomers Church's reuse of the Hickory Ridge Mall and the New Directions Christian Church plan to redevelop Marina Cove, a large, vacant apartment property on Winchester, have been instrumental in shifting residents' attitudes about Hickory Hill.
On Broad Avenue, the success of the popular arts district has helped to drive down crime on the street's western end.
"In 2006, there were 173 robberies in that area. Last year, there were 54. Now those 54 people aren't happy, and we're not happy they were victimized, but that's a major improvement," said Colonel Jeff Clark of MPD's Tillman Station, which includes Broad Avenue.
First Baptist Church on Broad has invested more than $10 million in revitalizing the area in the last 10 years. They're currently developing a senior living center, a job training center, and a Christian school as part of the Hope Village project.
"We've also purchased three apartment buildings within the [Broad Avenue] community over the last 10 years, and we've torn them down and put in new buildings and parking lots. When you erase the blight, you have a better chance at giving people safe neighborhoods and streets to live on," said Pastor Keith Norman of First Baptist Church.
In Midtown North, Colonel Bishop Mays of MPD's Old Allen Station credited strong partnerships between residents and police for reducing crime in recent years. Such a partnership was behind the city's first Drug Market Intervention (DMI) in the Hollywood-Springdale community of Midtown North in January 2009.
The DMI crackdown led to more than 40 indictments for drug crimes, but unlike with most drug busts, a handful of nonviolent offenders were offered a second chance. Longtime Midtown North resident Dorothy Cox said the DMI operation was partly responsible for a sustained drop in crime.
"Before DMI, we really had a problem with open-air drug sales, and we had a problem with abandoned properties," Cox said. "Overall now, drug sales, vagrancy, panhandling, and prostitution are down."
"When you have that many indictments and individuals going to federal prison for a significant amount of time, that word spreads in the community," Mays said. "DMI hasn't been fully responsible for the elimination of crime, but it certainly contributed."