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Making Neighborhoods Safer

Safe & Sound’s Barbara Notestein

Jul. 17, 2013
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Since joining Safe & Sound in 2002, Executive Director Barbara Notestein has overseen the nonprofit organization’s initiatives to reduce violent and drug-related crime in Milwaukee neighborhoods through ongoing collaborations with law enforcement, concerned residents and youth programs. Now a presence in 21 Milwaukee neighborhoods, Safe & Sound’s successes are due to the steadfast commitment of knowledgeable staff, its valued partnerships and the collective will of residents, according to Notestein.


How was Safe & Sound established?

Three community leaders—former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, former Mayor John Norquist and former U.S. Attorney Tom Schneider (who is now the head of COA Youth & Family Centers)—were concerned about drug-related crime in Milwaukee, particularly crime that affected young people. They put together a Youth Crime and Violence Task Force that included many Milwaukee leaders. They studied the problem, looked at various strategies that could be adopted and came up with the plan for Safe & Sound.


How did your experiences as both a community organizer and an elected official in the Wisconsin State Assembly shape your outlook on community involvement and grass roots initiatives?

One of the things I believe fundamentally—and I do believe being a community organizer and an elected official helped this—is that the way to true change in neighborhoods and communities is for the residents themselves to become empowered to access the resources the city possesses, whether it’s connecting with the police department or the district attorney’s office or churches or businesses. Residents can then work together to bring those resources and those strategies to the problems in their neighborhoods.


When Safe & Sound enters communities, do you ever encounter reluctance from residents? How do you cope with that?

It depends on what’s been happening in the neighborhood. For example, we’ll go into a neighborhood where law enforcement may have arrested a very large group of major drug traffickers and it’s a neighborhood where people don’t go outside, they don’t know their neighbors, they’re not connected to any of the neighborhood businesses and they just want their kids to [be able to] play outside. So we start going door to door, building trusting relationships with people and talking to them about getting to know their neighbors. We start to build block-watch groups where people begin to talk about what they can do together to make change. What we’ve seen over a period of time is that we can get people to initiate strategies to really change what’s happening in those neighborhoods.


How does Safe & Sound work with the Milwaukee Police Department?

The police chief is chair of our board of directors at this time and we do work very closely with the Milwaukee Police Department, especially community liaison officers. These are officers in each of the districts that are there to connect with block-watch groups and help residents communicate with the police department. We really believe that the police have a role to play in community development.


To learn more about Safe & Sound, visit safesound.org.


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