By Kim Owens
Faced with a roomful of more than 50 College Cultural Neighborhood residents on edge after a spate of recent crimes, Flint Police Chief Tim Johnson attempted to offer reassurance at an Aug. 17 meeting of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association (CCNA) neighborhood watch group.
“We’re in a battle, we’re on the battle field, but we’re not losing the war,” Johnson said. Noting that crime stats are down and arrests are up 87 percent, he added, “And we’re not losing the battle.”
Despite his comments, residents expressed fear, anger and frustration regarding the recent criminal activity, especially a series of drive-by shootings that had affected several residents in attendance. When residents voiced complaints about response times, the chief cited characteristics of the 9-1-1 system as an explanation, offered his personal cell phone number, and told residents to use it.
The meeting, held in Mott Community College’s RTC auditorium, was a regular gathering of the CCNA’s watch group, but was beefed up this month specifically to hear from some outside experts and to consider deterrents to crime.
Neighborhood watch chairperson Mike Herriman introduced presentations from Julie Lopez, program director of Crime Stoppers of Flint and Genesee County; D.M. Burr, a local security company; and Emanuel Taylor, a crime analyst from Wayne State currently embedded with the Flint Police Department. The group also heard from Seventh Ward Councilwoman Monica Galloway, who had invited and introduced the police chief.
Crime Stoppers: an anonymous option
Lopez, a horticulturalist for 25 years in Livingston County, said she became involved with Crime Stoppers in July, 2011 after her father-in-law was murdered in his home on Flint’s east side.
She eventually got a job with the Flint chapter of Crime Stoppers. Crime Stoppers hosts a number, 1-800-422-JAIL, where anyone who has information on an unsolved crime or something that might be happening can make an anonymous call. The tip will then be reported to the police and the caller receives a tip number, which is also anonymous. If the tip leads to an arrest, the caller can get a reward. The amount depends on the nature of the crime.
Lopez stressed Crime Stoppers tipsters cannot be subpoenaed and any information that is accidentally given that could lead to identification is removed before the tip is passed on to the police. Recently, she said, a Crime Stoppers tip led to the arrest and conviction of a self-proclaimed gang leader who was charged with, among other things, human trafficking and drug dealing.
Crime Stoppers recently received a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation. The grant covers northeast Flint (Interstate 475 to Robert T. Longway to Carpenter Road to North Center Road). The main focus of the grant will be education on crime prevention and solving unsolved crimes. Lopez said the grant was designed to build the trust between the police department and the community. Many community members fear calling the police because of retaliation, she said, adding Crime Stoppers can help generate those necessary tips police officers need to prevent and solve crimes because of the anonymity they provide.
Response time lag? Call the Chief’s cell phone
Asked about response times, Chief Johnson explained calls now go through the 9-1-1 call center.
“If they don’t dispatch you a police officer, then you won’t get one,” he said. Calls used to go through the police department, he explained, but one of the emergency managers placed Flint with the county-wide 9-1-1 system, meaning wait times depend on what’s going on in the city at the time of the crime. He urged residents to call him on his personal cell phone (810-515-6184) if they feel they cannot wait for a police car to arrive.
Johnson stated the city currently has 110 police officers. Of those, eight are assigned to the Crime Area Target Team, which targets high profile crimes like homicides and drug dealing and is charged with finding suspects as quickly as possible and solving those crimes.
Two other officers are assigned out county trying to stop the crimes before they get to Flint.
Chief Johnson said he initially got backlash for reassigning those ten officers, but said the choice is paying off. Crime stats are down, the arrest rate is up 87 percent, and Johnson said the commander of the state police told him he pulled state troopers out of Flint six months ago because of the work being done by the Flint police officers.
State Senator Jim Ananich, attending as a CCN resident, later questioned Johnson’s claim, saying he was told Flint still has 45 state officers patrolling Flint and would clarify this with the chief.
CCNA considering private security
Herriman next noted the CCNA is looking at the private security service D.M. Burr as an add-on to what the neighborhood has, not as a replacement of what it already does. “The additional prosecutions taking place in Flint are, in part, because more people are stepping up and submitting information to the police department,” Herriman said. D.M. Burr would not be used as a police agency but rather as another tool to get additional information to the police, he said.
D.M. Burr CEO John Allen and Director of Security Jim Lincoln noted they have 200 security officers and are a Flint company. They have both armed and unarmed officers. They started patrolling the Woodcroft neighborhood five years ago when residents got tired of 9-1-1 not responding to calls. In that five years, “crime in the Woodcroft estate area has gone down by about 75-80 percent,” Allen said. “Am I going to take complete credit for that? No. I think there is a better awareness in that community, but I also think that we are there as a deterrent and a deterrent only.”
How do they act as a deterrent? He said D.M. Burr tries to assign the same officers to a community so they get to know the residents well. While patrolling, they stop and talk to neighbors, building a relationship of trust among residents and officers. Their officers also have no problem confronting strangers in the area, asking if they need assistance. D.M. Burr provides signs to post in yards and they offer vacation checks.
Residents had a number of questions, most importantly about cost and services provided. Allen noted Woodcroft has roughly 250 homes with about 80-100 participating in the program at $500 a year per home. This provides for roughly 50-60 hours a week of patrolling.
However, he also noted that costs and services provided would largely depend on what residents are looking for. An armed security officer would cost more than an unarmed officer, for example. The CCNA neighborhood is also larger, with one resident noting it has about 1200 homes. Allen noted that if an entire area of the neighborhood does not participate in the program, that area would not be patrolled. The neighborhood would need at least 25 homes to participate but the more who join, the more patrolling D.M. Burr would provide.
While D.M. Burr won’t tell residents the exact times of patrols for security reasons, they do establish patterns of criminal activity, either through the police department or the neighborhood watch group, and plan accordingly. They have both marked and unmarked cars equipped with GPS; marked cars look like police cruiser, another deterrent for criminal activity. Employees are bonded, insured and go through extensive training and background checks. D.M. Burr would work with the current neighborhood watch and would report to them of any suspicious or criminal activity. They do not have the power to arrest unless a felony is committed in their presence, the same power any citizen has.
Herriman passed around a sign-up sheet for those interested and promised to call a future meeting to discuss the matter.
CompStat offers info on crime patterns
Emanuel Taylor, a crime analyst from Wayne State University currently embedded in the Flint Police Department, was next on the agenda. He is in Flint on a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation and running CompStat (computer statistic) meetings in Wards 1-6. Essentially, he said, he goes through police reports and live crime maps to detect patterns of criminal activity, thus using data to fight crime.
The data he uses comes from police reports, which means some of the crimes might not make it into his statistical analysis if he is not aware of it. While Wards 7-9 are not part of his grant, this just means he cannot hold CompStat meetings for those wards. However, he urged residents to email him with any criminal activity they know of at email@example.com.
Bus stop moved to reduce loitering
In other business, Herriman noted the bus stop has been moved from the Golden Spot convenience store one block west, significantly cutting down the number of individuals hanging out. Furthermore, the owner of the store put up “No Trespassing” signs, giving residents justification to call police if they see people just hanging out. Herriman noted to say they were trespassing, not loitering, as trespassing is a more serious offense. The sign gives police the right to question them.
As the two-hour meeting concluded, CCNA president Mike Keeler tried putting on a positive spin.
“Very few neighborhoods would call a meeting like this and have 50 people show up,” he said. “We have a great neighborhood. We all know that. Crime is happening all over the county but the thing we got going more than, I think, other communities is that we are connected and we care about one another. That’s the big focus for our neighborhood. We’ve got people out there patrolling every night and I doubt you’re going to find that in any other community.”
EVM staff writer Kim Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.