By Joe Gamm firstname.lastname@example.org, Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2013 5:00 am
GREENSBORO — Robert Caple walked along the sidewalks at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Randolph Avenue on Thursday, stopping periodically to pick up scraps of paper.
He hadn’t walked on that sidewalk for three years because of crime in the area, he said.
“There was loitering, people hustling drugs and prostitutes,” Caple said. “They did it in open daylight. They don’t care.”
But, now that’s changed.
In just two months, more neighborhood people walk along the sidewalks. There appears to be less litter along the streets.
And there has been a rise in arrests for loitering, hustling drugs and prostitution over the past two months — just what residents want.
Residents, police and city officials attribute the change to the MLK Initiative, a project police started in August to clean up the neighborhoods encompassing Ole Asheboro, Asheboro Square and Arlington Park. The initiative involved police, the city, prosecutors and community groups.
Residents and police are so happy with the results they plan to continue with and add to the project — targeting absentee landlords and abandoned buildings in the next phase.
The focus on the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor was a long time coming, residents say.
Caple, vice president of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association, said the organization had lobbied for a greater police presence in the area for years.
“The situation wasn’t getting any better,” Caple said. “Residents who live here — we just couldn’t take it.”
Mary E. Black, president of the association, has lived in the area all of her 89 years. Black said she has seen a lot of change in the area and was concerned when people began to mill about on street corners.
“It wasn’t like this,” she said.
On Aug. 4, police increased patrols in the community, said Capt. Joel Cranford, of the department’s Central Division.
Patrols walked, rode bicycles and cruised through in cars.
Police officers went house-to-house, speaking with residents and giving them fliers. They focused on reducing prostitution and drug activity — two big community concerns, Cranford said.
Police made more than 100 arrests, and prosecutors banned seven people from returning to the neighborhoods, a controversial action.
“I think it shows that it was applied responsibly,” Cranford said of the ban. “We used the restrictions on the people who were problematic in the area. We will continue to use this as one tool.”
During the initiative, police were surprised by the reception bicycle and foot-patrols received in the communities, Cranford said.
“The increased visibility of our officers, out there on foot, out on bikes engaging citizens really helps,” he said. “They love seeing our officers on bikes, rather than in police cars.”
Caple said having police on foot or on bicycles breaks down barriers between them and the community.
“When police are out here on foot and can actually talk to people, you develop a certain level of respect,” Caple said.
At the end of October, residents of the Greensboro neighborhoods affected by the initiative met with police and city officials to talk about the crime-stopping effort.
“The one thing I heard over and over again was, ‘Don’t stop — continue helping us address our problems in the corridor,’” Cranford said. “We got very positive feedback from the community.”
Residents see a difference in the community, Cranford said.
City staff also met with neighborhood residents at the meeting. Assistant City Manager David Parrish said officials felt like the meeting allowed the city to address concerns voiced in an August meeting, held shortly after the initiative started.
Parrish said people wanted opportunities to talk to city representatives, and the meeting gave the city a chance to communicate in an unusual way — face-to-face.
The meeting gave residents a chance to speak directly with staff who had expertise in the areas where citizens had concerns, Parrish said. For example, if somebody had a concern about a pothole in their street, they were directed to people in the street department.
But the emphasis was on crime, Parrish said.
“We begged them to stay,” Caple said. “We realized police need to be here longer.
“When the riff-raff talk among themselves, now they know this is not a place to come.”
Police intend to continue the initiative, which Cranford said was never going to be limited to a 60-day effort.
Future actions will address “problematic properties,” he added.
“We have continuing issues with absentee landowners and rental properties or just vacant properties,” he said. “We are going to put the property owners on notice.”
Caple said the neighborhood can be proud of the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor.
So, he and his neighbors don’t mind picking up small pieces of trash.
“We have some responsibility, even if it means talking to people and picking up trash,” Caple said. “This is the first time I’ve been up here in three years. Now, I feel very comfortable walking through here.”