It started with a little graffiti on fences and garages every now and then. After a while, it turned into tagging and before long the burglaries started. Home no longer felt secure, residents said. They had had enough.
At the April 22 city council meeting, G Street residents Eric Davidson and Tracey Sutton-Evans voiced their concerns about the escalation of crime in the lettered streets neighborhood in hopes that the council could offer some advice or a solution.
“People come to you with issues like the train station and the Plover and whether or not we are going to have a summer festival,” Eric Davidson said. “Those are all things that are important, but people selling drugs on the corner of my street is a bigger problem to me, and it’s starting to escalate.”
Davidson and Sutton-Evans said that they have been in repeated contact with the police department over the past few years and have detailed the suspicious activity in their neighborhood, but it’s just not enough. “Even though the police department has been incredible in their response, we’re still having problems,” said Sutton-Evans. “We know there are problems in the city that are gang and drug-related. Some of that affects our neighborhood a lot, so we decided to start a neighborhood watch.”
It’s an idea that’s been in the works for some time, Sutton-Evans said. “We just had to get organized,” she said. Their community watch program will be Blaine’s fourth group to officially band together to keep an eye on their neighbors. They had their first meeting on May 6.
“It’s great for us as officers to have people who care about their communities,” said Blaine police chief Mike Haslip. “The community watch programs are really important to us and we do everything we can to help them. In some cases we’ve seen property crime rates drop by two-thirds within a year or so without a whole lot of dramatic action. It’s just that people are better informed and are more diligent about keeping an eye on their neighborhoods.”
But, he cautions, forming a community watch hinges on the neighborhood working together. “Community watches tend to fail if a group comes together and has an expectation that the police department is going to do it all for them,” he said. “That’s not how it works. They have to do it themselves and have a sense of ownership about it. It’s about empowering neighborhoods to be proactive and giving them the resources they need.”
Haslip said that the watches can mean anything from just keeping an eye on your neighbors to groups that actively patrol together. Even little things like knowing the activity patterns in your neighborhood can make a difference. “We can help the block become familiar with their activity patterns and help them to learn to recognize what is actually normal and what might be criminal activity,” he said. “A lot of times activity that is considered ‘suspicious’ is suspicious just because people don’t understand what’s actually going on.”
Getting everyone on the same page also reduces the strain on the already overworked police department. “When people are aware of what’s going on, we get less calls,” Haslip said.
If neighborhoods decide to form a watch, Haslip said his department would help them set up the initial meetings and give them the resources they need to move forward. “The concept is that we’re sharing information about the neighborhood, the basics of contacting the police and 911 and connecting people with one another,” he said.
If a neighborhood doesn’t have a program in place there are still things that people can do such as keeping valuables locked up and painting over any graffiti or tagging within 24 hours of it being posted. “It takes time and effort to put that up,” he said. “If a graffiti artist sees that his work is eradicated he’s much less likely to come back.”
“Mike and I have spent quite a bit of time together talking about this issue,” said city manager Gary Tomsic. “We can’t afford to hire more police officers, but we’re trying to come up with some ideas. Eric and his neighbors have done a nice job bringing this issue to us, and we’re looking at ways to get more eyes and ears out there to help with the activity that might be occurring.”
The next meeting for the lettered streets community watch will be on Tuesday, May 21 at 6 p.m. at Freedom Fellowship Church, 508 G Street. For more information about joining the community watch group, contact Jeanette Davidson at 360/332-3179.
For more information about starting a community watch of your own, call 360/332-6769.