Using the Weed and Seed Model for
Reducing Violent Crime

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

Weed and Seed was a program of the U.S. Department of Justice. New sites were not chosen since the federal fiscal year 2009-2010, and most sites were winding down at the end of 2011. Even though this particular program is now obsolete, we are writing about it because we think that local leaders would be well served by studying this multi-pronged approach to violent crime, drug problems, and revitalization in neighborhoods or communities ranging from 3,000 to 50,000 population.

I had personal experience serving on a committee for one of these programs, and I found it to be among the most realistic and effective programs I have ever personally participated in at close range.

In the history of the program, hundreds of Weed and Seed sites operating under the director of the local U.S. Attorney's office met with varying degrees of success in ridding areas of crime, gangs, drugs, and social dysfunction of all types. Like all community organizations, the effectiveness varied with the skill level of the facilitating attorney.

We were very sorry to see this program go, because of its effective combination of extra law enforcement (weeding), networking among social services and education providers in the community (seeding), and resident meetings aimed at mobilizing the population to report questionable activities and follow through when they need to testify.

nicely maintained vacant lot

We think you still could imitate the structure, described in detail in this publication on the Weed and Seed strategy, to some extent at the local level, although your hard-pressed law enforcement agencies may or may not be able to obtain extra attention from the Department of Justice for drug, gun, and other federal law violations. We turn now to how you would organize such a program.

You can still set up a steering committee of appropriate officials and leaders representing various levels and types of law enforcement, private social service providers, and neighborhood leaders.

The tough part could be finding someone who has the time, knowledge, and organizational skill to keep the meetings going. Obviously this convening person or group must have the respect of law enforcement to get the attention that your neighborhood deserves.

At a minimum, if you can't get federal law enforcement involved in your look-alike program, at least ask local police officials to meet regularly with the community and social service folks.

Whether or not you have an active Weed and Seed program, and at this rate, soon no one in the U.S. will have one, you need to deal with both crime and the perception or fear of crime directly.

For this you should a major community engagement campaign. People have to be told and shown that law enforcement is strong enough to protect them from retaliation if they report suspicious activities and people.

Community leaders are in a position to push back against the social stigma against being a "snitch" in some communities. If prosecutions cannot take place because of under-reporting and failure to press charges or testify, you won't be taking violent people, gang members, and drug pushers off the street.

The community policing idea works only if community members are willing to act as an intelligence source.

Your social service team members also need to help ex-offenders re-enter society after they have been released from prison. You don't have two or three or four months to start helping them find employment, substance abuse or other counseling, and a new circle of friends either. 

Of course it's much easier to have such a program with law enforcement help, but we think it's likely that there are enough dedicated law enforcement officers serving your community that you'll get cooperation.

You just have to understand that in many cases, their workload is outrageous. But as an organized neighborhood, you can help them prioritize their efforts.

Some Observations about This Community Drug Program

One of the real advantages of Weed and Seed was the "brand" with "brand name recognition," meaning it was known both to criminals and to potential social service agencies and investors.

It also said to potential offenders that they couldn't rely on residents being afraid to testify.

There's no reason to think you couldn't create a strong local brand that would have the same effects.

Law enforcement is typically better funded than social services, but if law enforcement officials dominate the program, they may not make the right decisions about the social and community work needed.

So be sure that you have strong and knowledgeable people on your steering committee to increase the likelihood that you will actually improve the community and improve individual lives, and not just cause criminals to relocate a couple of blocks away. Try your best to include agency representatives and resource people who don't usually talk to one another, in order to gain some synergy above and beyond what is happening already.

In many ways, this approach is similar to the community anti-drug coalition idea, so you will want to check out our interview with a practitioner about that, as well as this page.

A real plus of the Weed and Seed approach was the identification of individuals who need drug and alcohol treatment and the potential to work with drug users, addicts, and ex-offenders on the intensive basis that is required to have them both rehabilitated and then accepted and integrated back into society.

Keys to Success with a Program Based on the Weed and Seed Idea

For this program to be successful in the long-run, there must be local community buy-in.

Faith-based communities are natural allies, as are any social services agencies also active in the area. If you're in a metropolitan area, attempt to convince local foundations that the intervention and treatment aspects of the program will benefit an area wider than simply your neighborhood.

Look beyond the obvious places for partners too. How about the local library, training providers, arts organizations and individual artists, musicians, drug counseling agencies, drug courts, religious orders or non-profits providing options for prostitutes, employment programs that really work, entrepreneurship support projects, healthy corner store or food initiatives happening in your community, and so forth.

Determine what  the single highest-payoff activity would be for your neighborhood, and concentrate on that until it is working extremely well.

Results will take time. The Weed and Seed program was a five-year program, after which sites "graduated" but still received a reduced level of help. In our experience, the longer the duration of a program such as this, the better the results will be.

As people who have work on urban issues know, criminals often simply move around seeking the most vulnerable communities. So design a durable and flexible program, adjusting and updating the advisory committee frequently.

Drug demand, drug supply, gang territory, and crime hot spots all are subject to very frequent fluctuations, based in part on results achieved by the anti-social behavior.

Resources for Revitalization

Since this is a community development website, let's point you toward the pages that might be very relevant and helpful for a community trying to address their drug, alcohol, gun, violence, and unemployed ex-offender issues.

Revitalization is very useful in fighting criminal activity because it usually brings more residents, and a more stable class of residents who are dedicated to remaining in the neighborhood long-term. Here are the top eight pages that probably would help a crime-infested area become a better place to live:

Community mental health. Typically I didn't see even Weed and Seed programs go far enough in supporting general mental health and relationship skills, which is the only way to prevent drug abuse and addictions of all types. To be excellent with your local program, you should attempt to attract mental health professionals who can help heal some of the brokenness.

Long-term success means helping the children who've seen all this nonsense in their neighborhoods become hopeful, grounded, and involved adults. Often you have to do this in the context of mediocre to failing schools. The obstacles are high. Be sure to find any local after-school programs and clubs offering children's activities, and help them become involved.

Redevelopment. In most cases a gang-ridden and drug-crippled community will need to attract physical development or redevelopment.

Community poverty. Since the spikes in criminal activity always coincide with downturns in the economy, it's easy to demonstrate a connection between poverty and crime. It shouldn't come as any surprise that we as community development practitioners say that our experience is that poverty provides a fertile ground for both crime and drug problems.

Neighborhood associations. This page explains how to start a neighborhood association and to some extent, how to grow it and keep it successful. You need to include the grassroots folks. More of them will come out to meetings if the fear factor diminishes.  We've also written an ebook about starting a neighborhood association.  If that seems much too ambitious, try a block club instead.

Microloans. The U.S. Small Business Administration administers a microloan program for business start-up. As part of the revitalization effort, it's possible to cultivate potential entrepreneurs who live right in the neighborhood.

Microfinance often provides only a small amount, but can allow at least one person the opportunity to make an honest living. It's highly recommended that you become aware of this program.

Even before a microloan, often a person or household must start learning to save small amounts of money. An impactful aid in beginning a regular savings program is the individual development accounts idea.

Abandoned buildings. Vacant buildings and lots are hangouts for many types of counterproductive behavior, so don't give it a place to happen.

Homelessness. This can be another area that complements a program similar to Weed and Seed. This isn't to imply that homeless people are criminals or drug users, but failure to deal with the homeless population can make them either targets or perpetrators if they become desperate.

In general, learn all you can about successful community building, and if you click around this site, or check the Sitemap or search box below, you'll find many resources relevant to your neighborhood.

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  5. Weed and Seed Model

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