By CLINT FOSTER
Over the past 12 months, the Mineral Wells community, under the leadership of the Mineral Wells Police Department, has been putting forth a concerted effort to combat crime at its source and make the city a safer place to live, work and play. It is called Project 365 and, in its first year, has focused on a target area on the southeast side of town that has statistically been a hotbed for crime, especially property crime.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting – conducted in the special location of the Mineral Wells Junior High Library – Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan presented his report of the project’s results. He also publicly recognized the many individuals and groups that contributed to its success by awarding plaques. It served as the perfect launching point for National Night Out: a community gathering at the school as part of a nationwide effort to promote crime prevention activities by encouraging neighbors to get to know each other and look out for one another.
Project 365’s first-year process of high-visibility enforcement, code enforcement, neighborhood cleanup and restoration within the target area – between S.E. 6th Avenue to S.E. 14th Avenue and from Martin Luther King Jr. Street to Municipal Highway 379 – was declared an overall success.
Over the course of the 365 day period, statistics showed a 6 percent drop in overall crime in the target area when compared to to the previous year.
Volunteers also worked tirelessly to clean up and restore multiple properties.
Sullivan said Project 365 is a long-term venture to improve Mineral Wells, at-large. It’s a program that is built primarily on lessons Sullivan learned at his previous police post.
“This is applying the model to community policing that’s kind of a hybrid adaptation of what I learned in 25 years of [working in] Fort Worth,” he said.
“It’s an often overused saying, but if you continually do the same thing you’ve always done, how do you ever anticipate getting any other result than the same one you’ve always gotten? Here in Mineral Wells, there is just way too much potential. People are still around that can remember when Mineral Wells was a destination … that’s part of our guiding vision. Working together, we can truly make Mineral Wells a great place to work, live and play.”
Sullivan explained that when he first started in Cowtown, Fort Worth used to lead the nation as the murder capital of the United States, with a lot of gang activity, violent crimes and a tremendous number of per-capita murders, mostly driven by the crack/cocaine industry. But through the process of community policing, new developments and a federally sponsored program called “Weed and Seed,” many areas that were once considered dangerous have been revitalized and are now some of the city’s most frequented areas. In the same way, Sullivan said the Project 365 template is “just a pathway toward the greatness that Mineral Wells truly holds.”
“We didn’t absolutely win the war, but some of the things we have accomplished, those are gains,” he said. “There was a time in the not-too-distant past that people perceived Dallas as a not-so-safe place to go. We’ve got to change that perception about Mineral Wells, if we’re going to attract new residents, if we’re going to become a destination again, if we’re going to attract new industry and a workforce. And if we’re ever going to see the revitalization of either one of our two iconic structures.”
One of the chief aspects of Project 365 were the cleanup and revitalization phases. Sullivan told City Council that volunteers picked up 50,000 pounds of trash in the small target area on the southeast side of Mineral Wells.
Sullivan insisted on the importance of this as a form of crime prevention.
“I’ve heard comments about this as just putting lipstick and kind of a mask on it,” he said. “Call it what you will, but community blight is a proven concept. It’s just like why you clean your kitchen or your restroom. If you don’t, then there’s an infestation of insects and rodents that all carry disease. Our infestation here is the criminal element and one of the tactics and proven techniques is ridding the community of the evident blight; 50,000 pounds of trash in a roughly 24-block square area is a heck of a lot of blight.”
City Manager Lance Howerton told the Index that he agreed with Sullivan’s assessment that the project was a success in its first year.
“As with anything, you have to start from someplace and we’ve made some very good progress in this first effort,” he said. “The whole basis of this is to see if we can attack the problem of crime, not only from the standpoint of additional patrol and other traditional types of policing activities, but also trying to address some of the core issues that cause crime. I think the community responded well as evidenced by the amount of participation and the number of people at the meeting [Tuesday] night that were involved in this project.
“I’m very pleased with our police department and the way that they embraced this program. I’m very pleased with the groups within our community that embraced this program and were involved in it and also the individuals in the project area that took advantage to make their community stronger and safer. This gives us a good place from which to launch our second year Project 365 and hopefully see the same kinds of results in the upcoming year.”
As for the second 365 days of Project 365, Sullivan said they plan to apply lessons learned that will hopefully make for even more success on the southeast side of town. The target area has been whittled down and better defined so that it can be given the best possible attention. He said the advent of the city’s new property maintenance code also gives the police department a valuable new tool it can use. Sullivan also plans to employ new tactics to get the neighborhood involved and get the community, as a whole, to understand the importance of being actively involved in crime prevention.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m convinced that we can slay the dragon and fix all the ills, but the reality is you can only do so much. This [newly defined] area is more along the lines of where the continual problems and patterns exist. We’ll stick with the plan and the plan has demonstrated success. I’m just thankful that we did have the teams and partnerships.
Giving of yourself to help someone, especially someone you don’t know, that’s a pretty powerful message.
“I ultimately want everyone to understand how safe Mineral Wells can be and should be and, deservedly, everyone expects it to be. But we can’t do it alone. There are a lot of facets to what is a very dynamic equation, even in a small town like Mineral Wells.”