CITY OF SALT
LAKE CITY, UT
COMMUNITY ACTION TEAMS (CATs)
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
Salt Lake City’s Community Action Teams (CATs) are a multidisciplinary approach to solving community issues at the neighborhood level. The teams are organized along the boundaries of the city’s seven council districts. They meet weekly to discuss issues in their communities and to fashion collaborative, creative and comprehensive solutions to problems in the community. Issues are referred to the teams from the community through the police department, city council office, mayor’s office, city agencies, or community councils. These issues range from quality of life concerns, such as parking and code enforcement, to serious public safety issues including drive-by shootings, gang houses, and drug houses.
Members of the CATs include, but are not limited to, representatives from:
Youth and Family Specialists – Providing intervention from 2 to 8 and more:
Youth and Family Specialists (YFSs) are a unique component of the Community Action Teams. In essence, they are social workers attached to the Salt Lake City Police Department whose main function is intervention with at risk youth to prevent juvenile crime. Their offices are located in the Police Department Community Support Division.
Police officers who encounter at-risk youth do not have the time or connections to locate intervention resources for these youth. The Youth and Family Specialists, over the past four years, have networked with schools, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the D.A.R.E. program, and many other community-based programs for youth. They can do what officers cannot - take the time to keep at risk kids from getting into more trouble.
Cases are referred to the YFSs through school teachers and counselors, the juvenile court, parents, patrol officers, other government agencies, and other youth programs such as Project LINK, Project HOPE, and Colors of Success.
When a youth is referred, a YFS will visit her either at school or at home and make a needs assessment. Naturally, kids that are at higher risk get priority for attention because there are only four YFSs. Often, when a YFS visits a home, they may find evidence of abuse or unsafe living conditions. When this happens, the case is referred to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, which has a good working relationship with the Youth and Family Specialists and the CATs.
Close case management is one of the most important things that the Youth and Family Specialists do. Once a YFSs begins working with a youth, he makes sure he knows where his client is supposed to be at all times of the day, and he will check up on her once or twice a week at her home and at school. During the hours when the youth is not in school, the YFS will connect her with mentoring programs, the local Boys and Girls Club, or other in-school based or community-based after school programs.
The Youth and Family Specialists are also mentors themselves at Jackson Elementary School. Once or twice a week, they spend a couple of hours with kids from Jackson after school. They tutor them, play games with them , take them for ice cream – making sure they have at least one "big brother" or "big sister" in their lives to look to for help and as an example. On the days that the YFSs are not at Jackson, they make sure the kids are in another after school program until the parents are home.
Also unique to this program is the relationship the Youth and Family Specialists have with local juvenile court judges. Rather than imposing specific programs of community service, or time in juvenile detention, a judge will assign an offender to work with a YFS and mandate that the youth do whatever the YFS determines as an appropriate program to "serve their time." Here, again, close case management is the key. A program set up for a juvenile offender assigned to a YFS might entail one week of house arrest; imposition of early curfews following house arrest; community service; involvement in job training programs, or if the youth is over 16, actually getting a part time job; going to school every day and completing their homework; restrictions on who they can associate with; and many other forms of preventative treatment including counseling.
2. When was the program created and why?
Community Action Teams began as the keystone of Salt Lake City’s Comprehensive Communities Program (CCP) funded by the Justice Department beginning in 1995. The idea behind the CATs was to create a mechanism for unified response to community issues that the police, or other agencies acting alone, could not accomplish. Also, CATs were a way to begin moving Salt Lake City toward a new way of doing business – community oriented policing, and, eventually, community oriented government – where the citizens have to take ownership in keeping their neighborhoods clean and safe by working with government instead of relying on government to do everything for them.
3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?
As stated in The Bureau of Justice Assistance Comprehensive Communities Program: A Preliminary Report by the National Institute of Justice,
"knowledge about the effectiveness of comprehensive community initiatives is extremely limited, in part because it is difficult to measure their impacts. Their complexity makes it difficult to pinpoint cause and effect, and experiments are difficult to conduct because finding comparison sites is difficult and randomization is often not feasible."
The CAT program is no exception to this assessment. The best guess of the Community Action Team Director is that on average, each Team successfully closes two to four cases per week. However, the case load of each team varies dramatically as does the nature of the problems they deal with. One team reported successful closure of 56 cases in 1997. (A case is closed when the nuisance at the property has been abated and/or the property is in compliance with city codes).
4. How is the program financed?
Originally, the CATs, and several other projects developed under CCP, were funded through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Grant funding for the CATs and other components of CCP ended in 1997, and nearly all of the associated costs, including the Youth and Family Specialists, were gradually absorbed into the city’s general fund. Only the CAT Secretary and CAT Director are currently funded through a federal grant.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at allHow has the community responded to the program?
Because many of the cases discussed in weekly Community Action Team meetings are considered confidential, especially those involving youth, members of the community are not able to attend the meetings. However, the members of the CAT from the Police Department of Community Support attend community counsel meetings and neighborhood watch meetings. This way, they are able to take referrals from the community and report back to the community about what the CATs are doing in their neighborhoods.
However, neighbors who bring complaints to the CATs are usually asked to document the cause of the nuisance. If it is a suspected drug house, the neighbors record license plate numbers of cars that visit the house, log the times that suspicious activity occurs, and sometimes take photographs. Similar things are done by the neighbors when the complaint involves "party houses," illegal trash dumping, child neglect or abuse, and other nuisances. The CATs use this information to build a case for further action.
6. What are major lessons learned from the program?
Benefits of the CAT process:
Addressing problems in a comprehensive fashion results in long-term, permanent solutions rather than short-term, temporary "bandages."
Sharing information between agencies increases the effectiveness of each agency, while maintaining confidentiality.
More creative and effective problem solving results from the team approach.
Overlapping and duplication are reduced, thereby increasing effectiveness.
Team members receive more personal satisfaction in their work by seeing results more quickly. They also feel they serve the community better by being problem solvers rather than simply enforcers.
Accountability among team members increases through weekly, face-to-face meetings.
Benefits of the Youth and Family Specialists
By acting as a kind of broker for numerous intervention and prevention programs, the Youth and Family Specialists can steer at risk kids into programs that are most appropriate for their needs.
Close case management by YFSs keeps at risk youths from "slipping through the cracks."
Close case management and good relationships built with at risk youth s places more accountability on the shoulders of the kids.
Good relationships with juvenile court, other social service agencies, and local schools promotes earlier intervention and more successful results.
Information sharing between the Youth and Family Specialists, the schools, and other social service agencies leads to more well rounded, tailored programs for at risk youth.
7. Contact person:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.