Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Weed and Seed: Put up the signs

Madisonville has become the second Cincinnati neighborhood to win a grant in the U.S. Justice Department's anti-crime "Weed and Seed" program. But you'd never know it from a casual drive through the neighborhood.

That's because the road signs the Justice Department sent to designate Madisonville as a Weed and Seed community are still in storage. The city won't let program directors put up the signs at six gateway points into the community, citing safety concerns.

"I just called the traffic department, not thinking (putting up the signs) was going to be a major thing," program coordinator Kathy Garrison, vice president of the Madisonville Community Council, told the Enquirer.

But city traffic engineers, according to Garrison, said the signs could block views of important traffic signs, so they couldn't go up.

That seems a real stretch. Surely there are spots near these neighborhood entrance points where the signs wouldn't cut off line of sight. These aren't giant neon billboards we're talking about (see photo).

The $225,000 grant and what it symbolizes are important to Madisonville, which has been working for three years to win it. Begun in 1991, the Weed and Seed program - the feds prefer to call it a "strategy" instead of a grant program - has helped neighborhoods across the country fight crime in innovative ways. The strategy is straightforward: Police "weed" out criminals from the target area, then the community "seeds" the area with positive programs to take crime's place.

Weed and seed grants, now in 300 communities nationwide, have been used to address a variety of problems from drug trafficking to elder abuse. In 1999, Evanston became the first Cincinnati neighborhood to receive the designation.

The signs aren't just window dressing to talk up the program. A pending federal bill would add teeth to law-enforcement efforts in Weed and Seed areas by boosting jail sentences for crimes committed within those areas. But that wouldn't apply unless the signs are posted.

The city ought to do everything it can to support neighborhoods' efforts to clean up crime and develop constructive programs - especially if Washington is footing the bill anyway. Any trouble or expense involved to the city seems minimal.

Nobody wants to compromise motorists' or pedestrians' safety by blocking traffic signals or street signs. But it should be possible to maintain safety and accommodate the Weed and Seed program. Let the signs go up.

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