After work, tonight, take a walk – around your neighborhood or through a nearby park. It’s a simple way to claim your neighborhood and discourage mischief, vagrancy, and crime.

Unused neighborhoods can easily become targets for mischief makers. Vacated or empty areas that become overrun by criminals or vagrants can be reclaimed by citizens simply by using and caring for them. Such responsibility falls to everyone in a community, residential or business.

Some years ago there was a neighborhood park that had been taken over by hoodlums who hung out destroying property, threatening and even attacking lone wayfarers. By the time cops arrived the culprits were gone. Nothing seemed to be resolving the problem, until people in the neighborhood decided to make a statement. Large numbers of them just simply began walking around the park. They spent time visiting and getting acquainted, and in general disrupting the sense of anonymity or invisibility that the vagrants and trouble makers had come to count on. Suddenly it was not an empty unclaimed space, but a neighborhood park which was unconducive to criminal activity.

Such is essentially the bases of the strategy that city leaders are pursuing to improve the level of safety in Billings. It’s an approach that costs very little, if anything; and everyone can play a role.

As one businessman explained, at a public meeting that was hugely attended by concerned citizens, it has been easy and inexpensive for him to make a difference around his place of business – – a place that, at first, he thought was just fine. Taking a critical look at it at night and walking around himself, he realized improvements could be made. He has made changes and can already see a difference.  What he did amounted to little more than cleaning and sprucing up the perimeters and extensively improving lighting. If every property owner did the same, the difference would be dramatic.

But it is more than just business owners. Residents in their neighborhoods can and should do much the same.

Walk around your property during the day and at night, asking yourself what could be done to make it look like someone is aware and what would make it is safer.

Remove any trash, and as much as possible items that create clutter or that seem to say, “no one cares about this place.” And, understand that it isn’t just your property that makes a difference, but that of the entire neighborhood, so pick up the trash at the corner of the block, too.

Keep windows clean and uncluttered  to improve visibility.

Keep weeds cut down, trim shrubbery along fences and around buildings. Remove weeds from planters and perhaps (here’s a novel idea) plant planters with plants. Remember, unattended planters outside of a business, and weeds in boulevards or in corners, convey a message to customers, as well as mischief makers. What message does the exterior of your property convey not just to villains, but maybe prospective customers, as well?

Replace burned out bulbs and if necessary increase outdoor lighting to discourage people seeking an opportunity to obscure themselves, and to allow good visibility for passersby and yourself.

Walk frequently throughout your neighborhood to get acquainted with what is normal, so as to be able to easily spot something that is out-of-place or suspicious.

Get acquainted with your neighbors. Explain to them what you are doing and why. It may encourage others to do the same.

Who knows it may all become an enjoyable experience, and for businesses, it might even improve business.

Take advantage of the Chamber’s offer to have a free Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment done of your property.

There may be more to be achieved by this kind of community engagement than just crime prevention.


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