The first of four community meetings launched formal efforts toward developing a communitywide crime-prevention plan.
Stephanie Collins isn't married, a mother or a homeowner. She isn't even done with school yet.
But even without the obvious ties to her community, Collins joined three dozen Lawrence residents Tuesday night inside the Kennedy School library, where they took the first steps toward building a community coalition against crime.
"This is important, because I want to raise my family here in Lawrence," the Kansas University graduate student said after the meeting. "I like the feeling here in this town. I want to retain that, and to raise my kids here."
Tuesday's meeting, the first of four scheduled through January, launched formal efforts toward developing a communitywide crime-prevention plan -- a plan designed to fight crime before it happens, by getting individuals and community groups to work together in forming a partnership against crime and its roots.
Coalition-building is the key to any crime plan, said Rick Easter, law-enforcement coordinator for the U.S. attorney's office in Wichita. Having a community plan also reaches beyond improving the city's chances of winning grants from the $30 billion crime bill that became law this year.
People can attack problems on their own, he said, by working with police, investing time and looking for creative solutions.
"This is a long-haul effort," he told the group, tapping his right hand on a desk for emphasis. "This is a long-term effort. It's not for the weak of heart."
Rod Bremby, assistant city manager, started the process by asking people in the audience about what crimes concerned them, crimes that the city should consider attacking from a preventative angle.
Eighteen issues -- including hate crimes, gangs, discrimination and child abuse -- soon filled paper sheets taped to a wall. One man even mentioned the proliferation of counterfeit bills being passed in local businesses.
Proposed solutions also varied. John Fawcett, a ninth-grader at West Junior High School, suggested opening another teen center, one outside of downtown. Robert Baker, coordinator for the East Lawrence Improvement Assn., emphasized the importance of Neighborhood Watch and neighbor-to-neighbor programs.
Collins, the 33-year-old graduate student, turned her attention to the home. Even if she still lives in an apartment.
"A lot of the focus seems to be on kids," said Collins, who's studying to be a counselor. "They're still going home to a situation where they're being influenced by their parents. They need help: free counseling, free parental training, free basic needs."
The next community meeting tentatively is scheduled for Dec. 11, Bremby said. No location has been set.