Bradley Thurman, owner of Coffee Makes You Black, 2803 N. Teutonia Ave., agrees that more reporting would help prevent crime. Thurman has hosted block watch meetings organized by the St. Paul Neighborhood Association at his establishment.
Kong would like to see more block watches, which bring citizens, law enforcement, city officials and city departments together to reduce neighborhood crime. There are 106 block watches in District 3, an 11.8 square-mile area with more than 100,000 residents.
Most of Lindsay Heights, 110 blocks organized into eight neighborhood associations, is in District 3; the remaining area, south of Center Street, is in District 5 (see map). The majority of the crimes in District 3 occur north of North Avenue, where there are fewer block watches, Kong said.
Kong also stated that the relationship between the police and the community, particularly the neighborhoods of Johnsons Park and Walnut Way, has improved in the last several years. “We are always in contact with them; they are our best assets in reducing crime,” Kong said. However, not all of the eight neighborhoods in Lindsay Heights have block watches.
In some areas people are apathetic because they don’t believe the police will do anything even if they call, said Turner, who moved to Johnsons Park eight years ago. Communities need to decide what they will or won’t tolerate on their block, he noted. “You don’t have to confront the bad guys, but you can talk to the police who you’ve developed a relationship with, and they will take your information to heart.”
While some people are willing to get involved, because they like that others are looking out for them, “there are others who are not interested,” Turner said. “But we don’t push them. (People) have to opt in.”
Those who don’t opt in lack Turner’s enthusiasm for cooperating with authorities. “They got this policy on the streets called ‘no snitching,’” explained Lindsay Heights resident DeShawn Griffin. “They don’t want to get the police involved.” Another resident who asked to remain anonymous noted, “Sometimes (crime) becomes the norm and people ignore it and hope it doesn’t happen to them. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people still not calling in.”
Police acknowledge that one reason people may not be calling is fear. But Kong pointed out that neighbors who may not want to be seen talking to the police can provide information over the phone to protect their privacy.
The police department says it has no way to document whether residents are more willing than in the past to report crimes. However, efforts to encourage more community involvement may be having an effect. Community groups such as the Johnsons Park Neighborhood Association and Walnut Way Conservation Corp. have noticed improvement in their areas, and are working to make residents aware of the importance of block watches.
District 3 holds Crime and Safety meetings at the police station every third Thursday of the month. At those meetings, residents can hear about crime trends in their area and meet and talk with police face-to-face about issues of concern.
“Knowledge really is power,” said District 3 resident Raymond Duncan at a recent Crime and Safety meeting. “You can be proactive instead of reactive to crime and learn preventive strategies to be safe. I feel I am investing in my own home. I want to know what is going on and it’s only about an hour a month.”
The Johnsons Park Neighborhood Association created a “Safety Tips” document for residents that outlines ways to stay safe, report crime and contact the police about concerns such as vacant buildings or drug houses. For other problems, such as loud music or nonviolent neighbor trouble, they can call the police department’s communications supervisor.
Block watch participants are taught to call 911 when they witness or suspect a crime. They are asked to take note of the location of the crime, what occurred and a description of the people involved. Police warn them not to take the law into their own hands.
When crime reports come in, district police map them by category and location, looking for trends. Tracking crime trends allows police to focus on certain individuals and properties, which they say reduces criminal activity. They may use “safe street” tactics to identify suspects, sending additional patrol officers to a particular area and dispatching beat officers on foot to talk to residents about what they’ve seen. Officers also look for those who fit descriptions of perpetrators. The extra police presence can lead to arrests. Through this process, crime numbers may increase, but paradoxically, so can safety.
In addition, residents who call in crimes are asked to keep monthly logs that allow police to learn criminals’ routines. This process is used often in drug investigations. Reporting a crime once is not enough; residents must stay vigilant, Kong said. “Just because the (specific) problem has been taken care of doesn’t mean it’s gone forever,” he added.
In District 3, property crimes such as theft, criminal damage and assault decreased from 2009 to 2010, while burglary and robbery increased slightly. Overall, crime rates in Milwaukee have dropped three years in a row. However homicides increased due to arguments ending in deadly violence and domestic violence, according to a report released in January. Property crimes dropped 10.5 percent from 2009 to 2010 in Milwaukee.
Improving public safety is one of eight priorities for the community specified in the Lindsay Heights Zilber Neighborhood Initiative Quality of Life Plan. Among the public safety goals are to encourage all residents, business and property owners to take responsibility for their surroundings to improve personal safety, and to establish a clear line of communication between Lindsay Heights and District 3 police.
“You don’t have a cop on every block — that’s nirvana — but I’ll tell you what you do have on every block: the people who live (there),” Turner said. Kong added that if residents don’t report crime “it’s not going to be taken care of. If they don’t call, we won’t come.”