Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 6:40 PM EST
This trash has been sitting on Laurel Street for ages. Can a Blockwatch help clean it up?
A block watch is forming on Laurel Street, led by Sallie Toussaint of Niles Street.
With the help of Community Service Police Officer Jim Barrett, Sallie has been organizing the neighbors. On Thursday, April 30, Toussaint hosted in her Victorian home about ten neighbors for an hour-long meeting with Barrett.
Over cookies and juice, people talked about the neighborhood and got to know each other. This will come as no great surprise, but all of the attendees were homeowners.
Sallie was smart enough to recruit the knowledgeable Pat Forrester, a veteran block-watcher who was instrumental in cleaning up Ashley Street.
The meeting covered a variety of neighborhood block watch tools to help clean up our streets, including protocols for calling the police, phone trees, and standing complaints. Neighbors will gather again to further a plan for a block watch, and we may even get a sign in our neighborhood that says "Block Watch."
First things first: Forrester suggested that next time the group meets, it should have an agenda. Without a set schedule of topics to discuss, people spoke of the problems in the neighborhood, and what they wanted to see fixed.
One neighbor decried the constant illegal parking on the northeast corner of Laurel and Farmington, in front of the Willoughby. Cars constantly park within five feet of the corner, making it difficult to take right hand turns from Farmington onto Laurel. Pedestrians have a tough time navigating these obstacles, too.
Officer Barrett told us to be sure we get the license plate numbers when we call the complaints into the city police department, so we can track repeat offenders, like restaurant food deliverymen.
Once we register the complaint with HPD, call Barrett. Since HPD is upgrading its phone system, Barrett told us to call 757-4000, the new number for routine calls.
Toussaint added a few tips for calling HPD: when you do file a complaint, be sure to obtain the dispatcher's operator number. That way, if a report is never filed, you have recourse with the dispatch center.
After an experience where Toussaint called HPD several times about a prostitute practicing her trade in broad daylight, and the police didn’t arrive until it was too late, she learned her lesson.
When she tried to figure out what happened, the cops said they had no record of the call. The switchboard manager told Toussaint to always identify the dispatcher you speak with. This provides a way to determine where the problem occurred, and it forces the operator to report the call.
Barrett noted, too, that the more people call in, the better police response times will be. He said that higher call volume means more police patrol. If someone is scared to call the police because they don't want to be identified as a neighborhood snitch for fear of reprisal, the police will not come to your door, Barrett promised.
"If you don't want to them to come to the front steps, tell the dispatcher so and they won't," Barrett said.
A phone tree is one of the more effective neighborhood organizing tools. Toussaint took everyone's number, and will distribute a tree among the group. The idea is to rapidly increase the volume of calls to the police when there is a problem on the street.
So for instance, when a prostitute or drug dealer prowls our block, Sallie will call the cops, then call me. I'll call the cops, then call someone else, and so on until HPD gets ten calls about the same problem and must respond.
The next tool of community policing is the standing complaint. A resident, a property owner or a renter fills out a form with the police that lays out a blanket complaint.
Once the resident files the complaint, the police have permission to arrest a loiterer or a nuisance on the property without talking to the owner. A standing complaint is good for one year.
Everyone at the meeting who didn't already have one for their property filled out a standing complaint. It was simple, name, address, and phone number.
The best part of a standing complaint is that once I have mine filed, any of my neighbors can call the police on it when they see stuff happening on my sidewalk and I am not home to report it. Or, conversely, I can call for them.
Unfortunately, standing complaints don't fix 311-type issues, like the fact that the Niles Street sign has rusted out and fallen to the ground at 370 Laurel, or the piles of mattresses and broken mirrors that have lived for weeks in front of parking lots on Laurel.
Barrett suggested that we contact him and 311 on those issues, because as a member of the conditions team, he is the liaison for quality of life problems, like enforcement of noise ordinances or driveway obstructions.
"Everyone has their issues," Barrett said. "We can work together to get those fixed."
The meeting felt like the start of something positive. Sallie, a Weaver high graduate who moved away to New York City and has now returned, is taking a leadership role. The ten of us together for an hour represented 10 hours worth of work towards cleaning up Laurel Street, a worthy goal.
I can't stop the war in Iraq. I can't stop Obama's unmanned aerial drones from bombing civilians on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. But I can do my best to make my street safer and more inviting for enterprising people to renovate the three abandoned homes.
The ripple effect from that one feeling of security might encourage someone to stay on Laurel Street, and build a more stable neighborhood, with stable property values. A safer street means someone else might move in to Laurel Street.
That someone will pay their taxes, shop at the Green Apple and walk to the library branch. It's about building a vibrant, healthy community, and it starts with small actions, like building relationships with the police and neighbors to improve the place you live.
Yep, a block watch is forming on Laurel Street. It's the best news I've reported in months.