Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another view of Freedom Academy's Presence in the Neighborhood

As a member of the Freedom Academy Governing Board I attended the Rivergrove community meeting on Monday.  My remarks represent my own opinion and are not to be construed as representing the Governing Board or Freedom Academy.  I spoke with Bevan afterwards about his remarks.  I was most concerned with this statement he made:

"Property damage and theft has increased sharply since Freedom Academy became a part of the neighborhood."

Frankly, this statement shocked me.  It seemed to be counter to the general sentiment that replacing the old GRA park had helped deter crime in the neighborhood.  It was probably not all that bad to begin with even with GRA park in the state that it was.  Coincidentally, I had done a quick search of crime in the neighborhood on the interactive map on just days before the meeting.  The data on that site only goes back to November 2011, but I didn't see any thing in Rivergrove that looked alarming.  This added to my concern regarding Bevan's statement.  Afterwards, I asked him if he had any statistics or research he could share with me about that claim.  Bevan told me that he did not, but that this was the general feeling in the neighborhood.  He told me it was no longer safe to leave your cars unlocked during the day because things would be stolen out of them.  It has bothered me since so I did a little more research.

The crime reports of the Provo police department seem to contradict Bevan's claim on crime increases. I hope that people in the neighborhood will try and use a little perspective and research when making statements that can draw a correlation between the school's existence in the neighborhood and serious issues like crime.

Provo releases a crime bulletin every month and a larger report each year.  It is located at here.  The latest yearly data is for 2010.  It contains statistical analysis of crimes across the city and includes a 5 year comparison of crime rates broken out by type.  Using the 2010 and 2007 data you can see that the types of crime Bevan refers to (theft, robbery, vehicular theft, and criminal mischief) were all on the rise and spiked or plateaued in 2007.  The rates of these crimes have all been dropping each year since 2007.  The report is a city wide analysis, not specific to the Rivergrove neighborhood, so Bevan's reference to the feeling of the neighborhood may be statistically accurate, but it is impossible to tell.

You can also look at monthly bulletins from March of 2012 - January 2009.  Looking over the monthly data over the last 2 years shows that the Rivergrove neighborhood has seen relatively low rates for these types of crimes compared with other neighborhoods in the city.  Personally, I find it hard to believe that these crimes have been dropping city wide since 2007, but rising in Rivergrove.  I don't mean for this to be a personal attack against Bevan.  I genuinely enjoyed speaking with him and I understand his larger points about quality of life and safety.  I am concerned about those things too.  But I also have a larger point.

I think Bevan's statements are an example of the unfortunate result of the strained relationship between the school and the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, there is no doubt that students at the school have contributed to property damage.  You could infer that some of the students at the school are involved in some of the more serious crimes in the neighborhood just based on juvenile crime rates (though as a parent of the school I hope that is not the case).  But the school has become an easy and convenient scape goat for many things in the neighborhood that affect quality of life.  It is easy to blame the distant organization full of strangers for other problems that exist.  In this specific case, the data doesn't back up the claim.  This claim is particularly damaging as it correlate rising crime rates (which are actually dropping) with the appearance of the school in the neighborhood.  This is not only false, but highly inflammatory.  The same can be said for recent claims that the school will use eminent domain to seize property, that the traffic problem somehow contributed to the tragic death of a construction worker, that the neighbors or anit-charter school, or that they have a"not in my backyard" attitude.  These kinds of statements greatly concern me, far more than the issue of the expansion.  From the mayor's remarks on Monday, and the incredible action that the neighborhood has taken on this issue it is obvious that Rivergrove is full of wonderful, committed, and passionate individuals.  I believe Christian Faulconer's words that the neighborhood would be an advocate for the school.  I hope that we will see this is an opportunity for the school and the neighborhood to foster a relationship that benefits both communities.  But these harsh sentiments are alarming and they exists on both sides of this issue.  If hard feelings, from either side of the argument, are simply vented without any thought as to their implication or veracity it can cause serious damage to any future working relationship.  I urge individuals on both sides to be careful in how they frame their discussion.  While I understand how serious this is to the school and the neighborhood, I would hate to see the potential for a wonderful relationship destroyed over this issue.  Let's all try and be a little more careful when making claims that are based on feelings, not fact.

~ Dan Stovall, Freedom Academy Governing Board Member


  1. Regarding my statement on theft and property destruction; I looked for statistics but was unable to find much that could help in understanding any trend especially in our neighborhood and along 900 North. What I do know however, is that there have been quite a few cars broken into along our street. We also have personal experience in that regard where my son had two radios stolen from his car parked in front of our home. We have also had produce taken from our garden and other items have been taken. Neighbors along the street have experienced similar problems.

    I have lived at the same location for over 20 years and it has only been the past few years that we now feel we have to lock our car doors and make sure nothing is left outside on the front lawn.

    As I said in my statement, I have no idea if any of the thefts or property damage was caused by Freedom students, but I do believe it is symptomatic and that the problem will worsen not improve with the addition of the high school. By symptomatic I mean the general decline of the neighborhood as people move out and are replaced by people with different values.

    I didn’t mean to be inflammatory, but did want to express the real concerns people in the neighborhood have real or imagined about a general decline of the neighborhood and quality of life. It will be folly for Freedom to ignore these concerns.

    In general people in the neighborhood do not trust Freedom to consider the interests of the neighborhood as decisions are made.

  2. In interest of full disclosure, I have spoken with Bevan since I wrote this post and submitted it to the blog. The statistics that I found are only for reported crimes. Many of the things that have been brought up are likely never reported to the police because they may seem minor, or because the neighborhood is being patient regarding these problems. So I think while the statistics may say crime has dropped, the feeling in the neighborhood may be accurate as to what is happening.


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