Until recently, a dense neighborhood of apartments off Clinton Street in Garden Grove was overrun by gang activity, prostitution and violence.
Many residents were afraid of crime but, being distrustful of police, even more afraid to report it. When police were called there, they'd have to send three officers: two to take the call and one to guard the parked cruiser.
But in the last few years, the community has turned itself around--thanks in large part to the efforts of Betty Chu.
Chu works for Golden Remco Co., which manages about 250 apartments, or 40% of the units in the neighborhood. For seven years, Chu has worked to improve relations between police and residents of the largely Hispanic and Vietnamese area near Garden Grove Boulevard.
She has started tutoring and sports programs to keep kids off the streets and created English-language classes for adults. She has encouraged residents to call the police and work with officers when crimes occur rather than distrusting them and keeping silent.
And she patrols the streets almost every day with a cell phone, calling police whenever she sees graffiti or a sign of trouble.
Chu's work "created a bond between the community there: the neighborhood and the Police Department," said Ray Regalado of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which recently presented the 47-year-old Westminster resident with its Community-Oriented Policing Award.
Chu said the impetus for her activism came from her boss, Golden Remco owner Edward Kuo, who has owned units in the neighborhood since the early 1980s. They decided it made good business sense to help improve the area.
Chu said she is gratified that her work has cut crime. According to the police, there were 336 major crimes reported in that district in 1990. By 1997 that figure plummeted to 189.
"Even the gang problems were reduced," she said. "Kids--you don't see too many of them hanging out. They come in here and participate in the programs."
Garden Grove Officer Paul Chambers, who patrols the area, said he is impressed by Chu's efforts and credits her for helping change community attitudes toward police.
"Now I can park my unit anywhere in there and walk the whole area by myself," Chambers added. "Instead of having bottles thrown at me, I have kids walking up to me asking for stickers and just talking."