“We’re trying to do a program to get people in the community to understand it’s not only what’s going on in your neighborhood, but what’s going on in your whole community,” J.R. Lee, captain of the East Side Neighborhood Block Watch, told members of the Police and Fire Committee. “All we’re doing is asking you to back us up so we can prove to people in other parts of the city that it will work.”
Violent crime in America dropped 5.5 percent last year with property crime decreasing 2.8 percent. Violent crime has dropped to historic lows over the last 20 years with the last increase in 2005 and the last property crime increase in 2002. But statistics are cold comfort if it’s your block that drug dealers are operating in or your car or home being broken into.
While seeking to promote their groups, some neighborhood watch members prefer anonymity fearing retaliation from criminals, said Councilmen Eddie Edwards, D-5th Ward. “It’s hard to get folks to step up to the plate,” Edwards said.
The housing collapse has also hurt, said Don Killinger, the head of a southside block watch.
Killinger, who estimated there are 500 to 600 active block watch members in the city of some 64,000, said fewer homeowners means fewer block watch members because renters are less likely to have the same stake in their community. Killinger said groups need to meet together more.
“There hasn’t been an effort to coordinate groups,” he said. “People feel like they’re in a world of their own.”
Gail Bonsor, an east side block watch member, said her group is cleaning up Century Park, but needs city resources and more volunteers.
“You have a group of volunteers willing to improve a part of this city that could really become a place to build,” Bonsor said. “We ask for direction, help and most of all, your support.”
Group leaders say in addition to notifying police about crime or potential crime, they also compare notes after crimes have occurred to devise ways to reduce them.
“We’re trying to set an example for other communities that you can make a difference,” Lee said after the meeting.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.