On the evening in May 2006, newly elected Newark Mayor Cory Booker stood before his supporters and announced a new direction for the city: “Newark must now lead our nation in an urban transformation, resulting in secure communities, economic prosperity, and a nurturing environment for families, elders, and children.” Alleviating crime in Newark was his first priority.

Since that time, Newark has gained national prominence due to both Mayor Booker’s public persona and the stated impacts of his administration—specifically regarding crime. As the New York Times reported midway through his first term, crime dropped significantly, and the city led the nation in violent crime reduction from 2006 to 2008. Murders declined by 36 percent, shooting incidents by 41 percent, rapes by 30 percent, and auto thefts by 26 percent. By the end of 2008, Newark had its lowest murder rate in 40 years.

While those statistics are impressive, anyone working in the community change business knows that change is rooted in the intertwining motivations and interests of community entities. A change in policy can net a short-term gain, but community-led efforts will yield longer-term results.

The social change sector is overflowing with the spirit of collective impact, but there are, of course, challenges. Emmet Carson discussed some of these challenges in a Huffington Post article, stating that routine collaborations “require developing shared interests and strategies while simultaneously agreeing on how disputes will be resolved, and credit or blame will be shared. Even when cross-sector collaborations do form, collaboration itself does not guarantee that the actual project will achieve the desired results.”

Newark’s crime efforts have followed many of the tenants of collective impact thought, but the results over the long-term could prove to be fickle—as we've seen in other cities' long-term patterns of increasing and decreasing crime statistics. Two areas where current collective impact thought and long-lasting community change could advance are in ensuring that the change is community-led and in opening issues to community-wide conversation. The issue of crime in the City of Newark is starting to see these two areas take shape and form a path to lasting change.

Community-led change

In 2009, the Center for Collaborative Change was created in Newark to serve “as a connector of people, ideas, and resources, enabling community stakeholders—government agencies, private and corporate foundations, and nonprofits—to better target, design, and align their efforts to address the city’s most pressing needs.” In 2011, the center partnered with the Newark Police Department (NPD) to survey its members and Newark residents. The survey identified issues that residents have with the NPD (broken down by neighborhood, ethnicity, and other characteristics), as well as issues the NPD has with the community it serves and with its own internal structure and management. Newark residents felt that poor police-community relations diminished the quality of life for residents, depressed morale for police officers, and suppressed the community-police cooperation needed to solve and prevent crimes. They felt that improving these relations was critical to Newark’s revitalization.

Additionally in 2011, the center helped launch Newark Community Solutions, the first community court in Newark, and the fruit of years of collaborative effort with the City of Newark, Newark Municipal Court, and local and national nonprofits. Community courts are neighborhood-focused courts that attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems. Looking at national community court models, the Newark collaborative realized that community courts lead to reduced crime, increased compliance with sentences, and improved perception of law enforcement. The collaborative recognized the potential of this model, but it needed input on how to tailor the model to fit Newark’s unique legal, political, and cultural context and on how to focus the model on the issues most important to residents. After gathering feedback from hundreds of Newark residents, community court judges are now empowered to order counseling for offenders and to impose creative sentences that benefit both the city and the offender.

Dialogue around impact

Another related impediment to community change is one that Susan H. Evans and Peter Clarke described in their Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Disseminating Orphan Innovations.” As with the slow work of building and maintaining broad-based partnerships for collective impact, it takes time, resources, and know-how to find, import, tailor, and support the implementation of best practices. The space needed to advance these best practices must be done, in part, through community dialogue. The Center for Collaborative Change led a community conversation through community meetings and surveys that identified a need and a pervasive willingness in Newark to improve community and police interaction, but a dearth of resources to connect those who can implement new strategies with information about what has worked elsewhere.

Later this month, the center will host a What Works Summit around the topic of police-community relations. The goal is to discuss recent Newark impacts enacted under the Booker administration in relation to crime and explore other models that can advance work in Newark and other cities. This is the first in what is expected to be a series of conferences, and it aims to bring together people who do not regularly collaborate, such as police on the ground, reform innovators and academics, community affairs officers, the faith community, national policy leaders, and keepers of Newark’s historical past. The center understands that for long-term community change to occur there needs to be an opportunity for parties to exchange ideas about what works in Newark, what works nationwide, and how the stakeholders set goals for and measure impact.

Implementing long-lasting community change solutions to such a complex and long-standing problem as community police relations in Newark will not be sustained solely by the tenants of collective impact or policy changes implemented by Mayor Booker. The challenge is to go beyond traditional collective impact efforts and build momentum. What is needed is concentrated, continuous dialogue that mutually reinforces efforts, led by a community that assesses whether dedicated initiatives advance positive impact on crime and improve community-police relations.

Read more stories by John Brothers.