weed & seed theory

Weed and Seed

Weed and Seed (W&S) was started in 1991 within the Executive Office of the President (EOP) as a discretionary federal grant program that provided funds for crime control and community revitalization to particularly troubled neighborhoods. U.S. attorney’s offices (USAOs) were invited to partner with local agencies on funding requests. The USAO was given the responsibility of setting up a steering committee and formulating a local strategy. After federal review and approval, federal support flowed through the USAO to the local agencies and organizations that would implement the strategy.

There were three demonstration sites in 1991: Kansas City, Missouri; Trenton, New Jersey; and Omaha, Nebraska. By 1997, management of the program had moved from the EOP to the Executive Office for Weed and Seed in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). In 2004, a new office— Community Capacity and Development Office (CCDO), within the Bureau of Justice Assistance—took over W&S program management.

The number of funded sites has grown steadily, from twenty-one immediately after the demonstration to more than three hundred in 2005. Site funding levels have declined as a consequence of this growth because congressional appropriations have not changed in proportion to the increase in sites. In the early 1990s, roughly 36 sites were funded at $750,000 per year for four or five years. By 1997, about 120 sites were funded at $250,000 per year. In 2005, few sites got more than $150,000 annually, though funding is the same for all sites. Current sites range in size from a few blocks to several miles in area, with populations between three thousand and fifty thousand. While typically within a city, some sites are county based.

Operational Overview

A Weed and Seed Steering Committee identifies target neighborhoods and then seeks to establish local partnerships that will implement a specific strategy to reduce violence, drug trafficking, and crime, and provide a safe environment for residents.

The USAO that has jurisdiction over a candidate W&S site assembles the steering committee for that site. This committee is responsible for developing the strategic plan for the site; overseeing, monitoring, and implementing programs; distributing program funds; and evaluating the program. Committee participants may include the U.S. attorney, mayor, police, local nonprofit leaders, federal agency representatives, private businesses, area corporations, residents, faith-based organizations, district prosecutors, and representatives of local agencies.

The first stage of W&S typically requires geographically targeted law enforcement by police and prosecutors (weeding). This is followed by enhanced social services and neighborhood improvements (seeding). Consequently, interagency cooperation and collaboration are required elements of most weed and seed strategies. Examples of such efforts include federal/local task forces involving the FBI, DEA, and some combination of city, county, and state police. Federal and local prosecutors also play a key role in identifying the optimal prosecution strategy when task force activities result in arrests. On the seeding side, increased communication and task sharing between social service agencies and community-based private sector organizations offer the potential for significant enhancement in the scope and quality of social service delivery. The usual pattern is to enhance a core of social services and organizations that are already collaborating.

Becoming a Weed and Seed Site

Before receiving funding, a community must attain official recognition as a W&S site from CCDO. To do this, the site must put together a steering committee and a strategic plan. Once official recognition is attained, the site may apply for funding from CCDO. Official recognition and funding are both temporary, with a five-year limit. A site that continues to implement its strategic plan and maintain its partnerships is considered to have graduated from W&S. Regardless, five years after official recognition, the site may not apply for W&S funding or official recognition status again.

Funds from CCDO depend on compliance with W&S Office of Justice Programs requirements. A site will only receive one award per fiscal year except when special emphasis funding is offered, usually on a competitive basis. Other outstanding OJP activities will be considered, as well as past awards and performance under them. Because federal W&S grants are not meant to completely fund all desired programs in a W&S site, the site will have to demonstrate the ability to obtain both financial and nonfinancial resources from other public and private sources. The site is expected to become self-sustaining during its W&S life, and a plan for accomplishing this goal must either be in the strategy or be developed shortly thereafter.

Weed and Seed in Action

A national evaluation of W&S was completed in 1999 (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Results of W&S programs varied: from wide reductions in Part I crimes (serious violent and drug-related offenses) and increased perceptions of public safety and police confidence, to small or no noticeable reductions in Part I crimes. Sites that concentrated federal resources on small geographic areas and leveraged additional funds in these areas experienced the most success in reducing crime.

Factors for Success

The initial state of a site has many implications for the success of a W&S program. The important factors include community social service infrastructure, crime levels, economic factors, and the rate of residential turnover within the community. With rapid turnover, the long-term community involvement and support for the seeding efforts of W&S are difficult to achieve and sustain. Once W&S funding is implemented, “early seeding, sustained weeding, high-level task forces combined with community policing, and an active prose-cutorial role are critical elements of program design” (Dunworth and Mills 1999).

The national evaluation (Dunworth and Mills 1999) found that:

The most effective implementation strategies were those that relied on bottom-up, participatory decision-making approaches, especially when combined with efforts to build capacity and partnership among local organizations. This required a long-term perspective about the program and its potential to bring about community change. Such sites, including some that achieved substantial crime reductions within the time period analyzed, have established a stronger foundation and more sustainable basis for further community-targeted initiatives.


In most sites, law enforcement approaches have been tailored to fit the strategy. They typically involved multiagency/multijurisdictional task forces, stronger street patrols, and higher level police/prosecutor interagency cooperation. The law enforcement efforts developed increased local, state, and federal coordination in targeting offenders, halting drug trafficking, and in prosecution or probation/parole.

“Multi-agency task forces concentrated on the target area, although they pursued drug cases across jurisdictional lines” (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Increased police presence was funded through additional staffing and overtime, and a majority of sites assigned dedicated officers to the target area. These approaches helped build relationships with residents and aided enforcement through better local knowledge and intelligence, an increased ability to operate proactively, and enhanced communication between residents and police. ”Weed and Seed provided a vehicle for mobilizing residents to participate in crime prevention. Responses ranged from increasing neighborhood watches, to community meetings, to a citizens’ advisory committee that provided guidance on law enforcement priorities” (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Violent and drug-related crimes were especially targeted by these efforts.

Prosecution efforts were weaker than police efforts in W&S because of various institutional, political, and judicial concerns. ”In general, district attorneys operate with limited resources and in politicized environments that act as barriers to the provision of the additional resources needed for local prosecution of W&S cases” (Dunworth and Mills 1999). Local police and prosecution operate through different political systems: Police departments are funded in a fairly well-defined process through cities, whereas prosecutors are funded through a competitive political process at the county level. In addition, police chiefs are usually appointed by mayors, whereas prosecutors are usually elected. Thus, though police were able to make concentrated arrests in the W&S areas, enhanced prosecution was often difficult to generate.

The majority of sites expanded or strengthened community policing efforts by dedicating officers to specific geographic areas. Though community residents would often protest weeding activities, fearing targeted harassment or discrimination by police, the community policing focus helped to improve relationships between communities and police, and led to increased public confidence in police in a number of locations. The result was a greater potential for making police-community partnerships sustainable after W&S funding was phased out. Little follow-on research has been done to see if this was in fact the result.


The seeding process is much more political, problematic, and complicated than the weeding effort, and it is more difficult for most sites to implement. Engaging, coordinating, and mobilizing multiple public- and private-sector agencies that are not familiar with one another was daunting for many sites. Planning, relationship building, and gaining consensus and commitment from potential program participants generally took much more time and effort than weeding.

Typical seeding efforts fell into the following categories, in rough order of frequency: youth prevention and intervention programs, neighborhood restoration, community building and development, adult job training and employment programs, family support services, and community economic development activities.


The future of Weed and Seed is uncertain. The program has low funding levels (around $60 million nationally per year), so it is not a very significant federal budget item. Therefore, it does not offer much savings potential during the annual appropriations process. However, for that very reason it would be a simple matter for it to be eliminated.

See also: Community-Oriented Policing: Practices; Crime Prevention; Situational Crime Prevention; Social Disorganization, Theory of

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