Rainier Beach Action Coalition and community continue public safety efforts


by Elizabeth Turnbull

Before the issue of community safety was at the forefront of the national consciousness after the BLM protests in 2020, members of the Rainier Beach community and the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC) had already worked for several years to create a greater sense of security. in their own community.

To this day, every Friday evening, members of the community, known as corner greeters, choose a place to sit down to eat, bond with passing community members, distribute food and water and make their presence known.

To local law enforcement, some of Rainier Beach’s corners are known as crime hotspots, but to community members who spend their Fridays making these corners safer, these corners are known as pearls.

“In our identified area, we identify a lot with, you know, the water and the ocean and things like that,” said Mariam Bayo, a local organizer and former corner host. “And so we wanted to kind of reverse the negative connotation.”

Working as a host in areas where security issues are more of an issue, putting up community signs and inspecting buildings and spaces, are just some of the things that RBAC and community members have to implement a framework called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to help with community safety.

“Granted, PBIS is kind of a mouthful,” said Stewart Bowerman, the PBIS project coordinator at RBAC. Emerald. “So I’m just saying I’m part of the public safety team at Rainier Beach.”

PBIS has become relatively well known in some contexts, but is less commonly implemented at the community level. In particular, the PBIS is most often used in schools.

In 2013, community partners and RBAC launched a safety effort called A Beautiful Safe Place to ensure public safety inside and outside of schools and in 2017, after the City of Seattle secured a grant of the National Institute of Justice — the research arm of the Department of Justice — RBAC has begun implementing the PBIS framework at the community level, as part of the research aspect of the grant, according to Bowerman.

A Google search for PBIS will likely bring up jargon and an overwhelming amount of information, but at its core the framework is trying to improve overall mental health in the environment and help students change behavior and achieve success. .

“I think a lot of times when we think about mental health, we think about getting specific supports from an individual, like a clinician inside an office or a therapist,” said Susan Barrett, implementing partner. implementation of the Center on PBIS. emerald. “And we really see how important it is to make sure that, again, that welcoming environment, that ecosystem is where I feel included, and I feel seen, heard, and valued.”

To be successful on PBIS, community members must decide on a set of values ​​that are most important to them, and the community holds them in place largely through positive reinforcement of good behavior, rather than simply denouncing bad behavior. . Additionally, increased levels of support, or levels, are in place should anything go wrong.

“It’s very different from a swimming pool, for example, where it says, no running, no diving, no shouting, no heckling. Where the focus is on everything you don’t want,” Bowerman said. “In a PBIS setting, you teach people what safety, respect and responsibility look like. And then the way you teach it is through positive reinforcement.

Although the program may seem generally positive, the PBIS has raised some concerns about its use in schools. Individuals in school districts in some states worry that the approach will make students too reward-oriented and limit teachers’ ability to punish behavior that deserves consequences, among other issues. RBAC’s use of the framework implements some of the basic practices of the framework, but does not yet have more substantial support such as mental health services.

After the 2020 BLM protests, many advocated for community safety efforts to replace local police departments; however, PBIS is more about cultivating a greater sense of community that is already there.

One of the first things RBAC and community members did as part of their PBIS effort was to have the community vote on what community values ​​matter most and what that looks like. Members of the Rainier Beach community have chosen safety, respect and responsibility as the most important.

To keep the values ​​in the public consciousness, community members and RBAC individuals have put up signs stating these values ​​and RBAC has hired community members to welcome and help create a safe environment in the areas where problems could arise.

In order to ensure that physical spaces are safe, people like Bowerman visit businesses and see if they would like to be connected with their neighbors or if certain adjustments like signage should be added to increase community safety and young people in particular. . This year, they hope to complete between 10 and 12 site assessments, according to Bowerman.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic dampened some of the project’s efforts, community members organized to hang out outside schools and give students high fives on the way to class. “[This was to show] we see you, we support you, we want to cheer you on, we’re proud of you,” Bowerman said. “There’s a kind of positive reinforcement that’s going on.”

Although the program has taken a few hits due to the pandemic, efforts like the Rainier Beach United Gathering — where the neighborhood meets every third Friday of the month to share and reflect on various challenges — continue.

In 2021, RBAC and community members distributed 800 “Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible” coloring books, supported two community murals, conducted seven public safety assessments, and hosted community healing spaces. , among other efforts.

Through all the endeavors and as they continue, Bowerman has a specific goal in mind.

“I define PBIS very broadly,” Bowerman said, “as creating safe positive spaces for young people.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the United States and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing it consistently.

📸 Featured Image: Members of the Rainier Beach community raised five students as they arrived for their first day of school at Rainier Beach High School in 2018.”[This was to show] we see you, we support you, we want to encourage you, we are proud of you,” said Stewart Bowerman, PBIS project coordinator at RBAC. “There’s a kind of positive reinforcement that’s going on.” (Photo: Susan Fried)

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