SOUTHWEST AREA : Neighbors Discuss Nuisance Crimes

They are the sort of crimes that never make the news, but wreak havoc on a neighborhood's image: public drunkenness, parking cars on lawns, disturbing the peace.

But members of the Southwest Area Police Community Advisory Board believe such "nuisance crimes" are serious enough to warrant communitywide discussion.

So the newly formed Quality of Life subcommittee recently held a conference that brought together block club captains, Neighborhood Watch captains and representatives from five city service departments for the first time.

The event at Trinity Baptist Church in Jefferson Park drew about 160 residents, who learned where to turn in city government for everything from making a crime report to trash pickup to tree-trimming.

Capt. Norman Rouillier, commanding officer of the Southwest area, declared the joint police/community event the largest in the area's history, and an encouraging sign that residents are truly beginning to empower themselves with the community-policing approach adopted more than a year ago by the Police Department.

The issues that drew the advisory board's immediate attention "were the little things, more so than the serious crimes that get more attention," he said. "People can help direct police to the things they may not be aware of."

Rouillier added that educating the public about which agencies to contact about certain problems relieves pressure on police. "Since we're the most visible arm of city government, we tend to be the first ones people call about anything," he said. "What we're doing now is taking the burden off."

In addition to educating the public about city services, the conference allowed police officers to educate residents about how to spot "chop shops"--places where stolen vehicles are stripped and dismantled--and other neighborhood blights. The Southwest station has started putting out a monthly newsletter summarizing such information.

Pamela Watkins, chairwoman of the Quality of Life subcommittee, said the conference has already prompted some action: She and other residents now regularly attend police roll calls to discuss concerns with senior lead officers.

"Change will be a slow process, but I really feel this is working," Watkins said.

A 13-year Crenshaw-area resident, Watkins became involved with neighborhood organizations in 1987, when she saw drug dealing on West Boulevard spill over onto Hillcrest Drive where she lives.

"When I walk into the Southwest station as a citizen, I feel differently," she said. "I don't feel intimidated anymore."

While Rouillier says he will host conferences on a regular basis, Watkins and other residents are already planning more neighbor-to-neighbor workshops this month.

Patsy Carter, co-chairwoman of the Quality of Life subcommittee, said the panel also plans training sessions with the 17 other police community advisory boards citywide to school them on improving their own neighborhoods--at no cost.

"When a neighborhood looks or feels uncared for, it invites more serious crimes. It's a target," said Carter, who runs a South-Central bed and breakfast. "And it keeps people from feeling confident in the place where they live."

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