By Paul Rozycki
Some years ago, one of our favorite programs was “Murder, She Wrote,” where mystery writer Jessica Fletcher solved the latest murder in the small New England fishing village of Cabot Cove. At the time, my reaction was that for all of Flint’s crime problems, Cabot Cove must have had the highest crime rate in the world. Her little village produced at least one murder a week for a very small population. It just didn’t seem like the place where you would expect such crimes.
That may have been an unlikely TV plot line, but for a long time the East Village/East Court neighborhood seemed like its own version of an innocent Cabot Cove. Yes, of course, Flint had a high crime rate, but most of that was on the north end or the east side, or elsewhere. We may have felt insulated from all those robberies, break-ins, and murders that happened “somewhere else.”
A few weeks ago the murder of Al Ballard on Cumberland Street changed all that.
He lived only a block and a half away from me. Though I didn’t know him, he was friends with neighbors across the street and was an active member of another friend’s church, who spoke with him just days before the shooting. All who knew Ballard praised his energy and willingness to work with others as he tackled many new challenges in retirement. By every measure, his loss was a genuine tragedy both to those who knew him, and the whole neighborhood. Thankfully, the suspects were caught and are facing a long list of charges.
That wasn’t the first murder in the neighborhood. There was one on Meade Street a few years ago, and a few years before that there was a shooting within earshot on Dort Highway.
How does one react to a murder a block away from your home? What kind of response makes sense? Panic? Resignation? Anger? Fear? A commitment to make a difference?
The response to the crime
On the positive side, it was inspiring to see how many people offered their support to the Ballard family. Many in the neighborhood brought food to the memorial service and others gave their support to the family in their time of need. The list of those who responded on Facebook was impressive. The response of so many said a lot about our neighborhood and our concern for each other.
But the death was also a harsh dose of reality. While the crime statistics for our neighborhood are still lower than most other areas of Flint, we can no longer assume that Flint’s crime problem is always happening “somewhere else.” It’s here and we need to deal with it.
Certainly the tragic murder of Al Ballard led to a larger than usual attendance at the recent College Cultural Neighborhood Watch meeting at Mott Community College.
That meeting produced some good advice, some worries, some warnings, some frustration, and some words of reassurance for those who were inclined toward panic at the recent turn of events. It also offered an opportunity to get involved and make our neighborhood as safe as possible.
The CCNA Neighborhood Watch
One way to make a difference is to serve as a member of the College and Cultural Neighborhood Watch team. Currently there are about 25 to 30 individuals who take the time to patrol the neighborhood and report any suspicious activity to the local police. According to Matt Schlinker, the program has resulted in many arrests over the years and he feels that just the presence of the Neighborhood Watch has prevented criminal activity.
In the last year their actions have resulted in five arrests by Flint police. Those involved in the watch don’t act as police officers. They simply observe and communicate with police agencies when they see something suspicious. The goal is to remain low key and non-intimidating. Those who see suspicious activity are directed to call 911 and then the Mott police at 762-0222. Participants can patrol on their own time and schedule.
For those who would like to learn more about the Neighborhood Watch and for more information on how to get involved, contact either Mike Herriman or Matt Schlinker. Herriman can be reached at 232-6751 and Schlinker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The College and Cultural Neighborhood Association website also includes background and information on the Neighborhood Watch, as well as many other features of our neighborhood association (www.ccnaflint.org). It’s worth checking out.
Practical advice to crime prevention
In addition to encouraging community members to volunteer for the Neighborhood Watch, Mike Herriman and several police officers attending the meeting offered a list of common sense advice. Among the suggestions were, lock your doors and your car, keep your garage door closed, and turn on your outdoor lights and keep them on. Some offered suggestions about using security cameras around homes. Others suggested hiring a private security company to patrol the neighborhood. However, in the end, probably the most important suggestion was simply to get to know your neighbors and speak up when you see anything unusual taking place.
For those who were inclined to panic at the recent turn of events, several speakers reassured those at the meeting that there have been serious incidents in the area in years past and the neighborhood recovered. But the Ballard family will never be the same, and as a vital and engaged neighborhood, it has been heartening how so many neighbors reached out with the love and concern we would extend to any of our neighbors in crisis. That is our responsibility.
And as other speakers reminded us, while Flint has a high crime rate, there have been similar crime spikes in the out-county, up north, and in other areas not usually known to have those problems.
Flint’s College and Cultural Neighborhood may or may not be a Midwest version of Cabot Cove, but a sensible reaction to tragedy and increased community commitment can go a long way to keeping us safe. We can’t rely on Jessica Fletcher to solve our crime problem. It’s up to us.
EVM columnist Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.