Watching out for you: The new role of neighborhood watch groups in Flint
Thu, 17 May 2012 21:43:51 GMT —
A multi-million dollar deficit has forced the Flint Police Department to do more with less over recent years, and the financial picture isn't getting any brighter. But some Flint residents are vowing to take the city back.
Robert Brown is on his way to the grocery store on a quiet Friday afternoon. The Hollywood, Fla., native moved to Flint seven months ago and says he loves his section of the city.
"If I didn't live in this neighborhood, you wouldn't catch me outside after dark,â?? Brown said.
The College Cultural Neighborhood - home to Mott Community College and the Flint Cultural Center - isn't riddled with crime. Brown says that's because people here trust each other.
"Most of the neighbors look out for each other, watch each other, most of the neighbors know each other,â?? Brown described.
Itâ??s an image Craig Wolcott is working hard to maintain. He and Mike Herriman head the College Cultural Neighborhood watch group.
"We wanted to get ahead of the curve and make sure that as the economy kept dropping, that we were taking care of ourselves,â?? Craig Wolcott said.
The group feels the burden of public safety now more than ever, in the face of a shrinking police force and continuing crime. Just last month, Wolcott and other members raised enough money to open a mini-station manned by volunteers. The property at 825 Commonwealth Ave. used to be the center of dozens of complaints, but now, Wolcott says, "They know that people are out looking."
Volunteers with the College Cultural Neighborhood watch group don't need to pass a background check or go through formal training to join this group. But they are required to follow certain guidelines to remind them they're civilians, and they're not supposed to engage any subject or use any kind of force.
"We don't chase people down,â?? Wolcott said.
Volunteers participate in one of three programs - Eyes & Ears, Red Alert and Patrol Notes - their mission is to help police, not be the police.
The vigilance is paying off.
"I see a lot of young mothers out there pushing baby strollers in the afternoon, and that's a good thing,â?? Wolcott said.
Crimes like breaking and enterings have gone down, and there aren't as many suspicious sightings on nearby Court Street.
This is all good publicity, Wolcott says, to attract young people - more home-buyers â?? who'll help boost property values.
"There's no reason for any other area not to be using something like this,â?? Mike Herriman said.
Art Diamond is trying, too, through Rollingwood Watch in his north side community.
"It started out with a couple of the neighbors getting fed up with all the crime in the area,â?? Diamon said.
A couple of neighbors last summer turned into about 20 people, but Diamond says, that's not enough to make a dent yet.
"It's not going to be right because of the police situation, but it is better,â?? he said.
It's a lot better. Take it from the faces behind Flint Police Operations, a social group with more than 30,000 fans on Facebook.
"We have more eyes and ears getting out on the streets, we have more people looking out their windows, we have more people meeting their neighbors,â?? FPO administrator Kat VanSickle said.
A group of 21 administrators - some of them paramedics and firefighters - keeps ears on the scanners and followers updated on crime, fires and EMS calls.
VanSickle said, â??It has been fantastic for the community."
She and administrator Joe Pozzi say they could be on to something big â?? something that will give the city of Flint back to the people.
â??We're trying to come off this â??FBI Most Violent City in Americaâ?? list for the first time in years,â?? VanSickle said.
Itâ??s a tall order, but none of these groups doubt it's possible with an army of passionate, like-minded citizens behind them.
"This is your neighborhood,â?? Robert Brown said.
â??If you can't feel safe where you lay your head, where can you feel safe at?" I'd rather feel safe where I can lay my head, knowing that, if something happens, somebody is going to say something."
None of the groups we spoke to allows volunteers to be armed. Flint Police Operations just became a non-profit organization and leaders are already planning fundraisers.
Some members of neighborhood watch groups plan to attend a Flint neighborhood summit at Calvary United Methodist Church from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 19. The event is free and open to the public.