- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - Ten years ago, the Goose Creek Heights neighborhood in north Davenport was a place that many were scared to live in, let alone visit.

Young children would make derogatory signs at police officers and tell them to get out of the neighborhood. People engaged in bloody, sometimes fatal, fights in the streets.

Tenants and homeowners didn’t trust the police.

Shootings, robberies, sexual assaults, burglaries, thefts, stabbings and gang activity were an almost daily occurrence.

“Over time, it got so bad that officers didn’t go in there unless there were two officers or more,” Davenport Police Officer Scott Fuller told the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1OnH2OJ ). “The neighborhood had the highest call for service anywhere in the city. It was nothing to get 25-30 calls a day just in Goose Creek alone.”

Today, calls for service are down, as are the number of arrests and citations issued by police. More neighbors and local landlords have taken an active role in cleaning up the neighborhood.

Goose Creek Heights, formerly known as Americana Park, is the first neighborhood targeted by the Davenport Police Department’s Neighborhoods Energized to Succeed, or NETS, unit, which uses community policing techniques and concentrates enforcement in troubled neighborhoods.

Sgt. Andrew Harris, a supervisor of the NETS unit, said the goal of the unit is to reduce real and perceived crime levels and improve the overall quality of a life among residents.

“Our goal is for all residents to know every officer’s first and last name and to have that relationship with them so they have that comfort to know that they can call us for anything,” Harris said.

Although efforts are a work in progress, police and community members say the neighborhood is improving.

Fuller, a 13-year veteran of the police department, was one of two officers assigned to Goose Creek Heights, which is bounded by Brady and Vine streets and by West 59th and West 67th streets, in the spring of 2005.

Fuller said he spent 99.9 percent of his time in the troubled neighborhood to investigate crime, work with landlords to clean up properties and let the community know that police were there to stay.

“We got out (of the squad car) and rolled the windows down, as opposed to rolling them up,” Fuller said. “We had to break that metal barrier between us and the people standing in the yard. That’s the big key.”

In the first year, police towed 245 abandoned, “burned out” and nuisance cars.

Police started to offer local landlords training and free background checks to empower them to be pickier when choosing potential tenants.

“They had more control than they realized,” Fuller said. “The problem back then is that landlords were non-participants, they didn’t care. Landlords participate much more today.”

The situation slowly started to turn around, he said.

“It took about 24 months to get to a point where we weren’t getting 20-30 calls a day,” Fuller said. “We had to convince the stakeholders in the community that we were here to stay and that we were there to help them.”

Residents started to take back ownership of the neighborhood, too.

They started a neighborhood watch program and appointed block captains to keep everyone apprised of what was happening in the area.

Landlords cleaned up their properties, hosted family-friendly activities and installed security cameras that Fuller has daily access to.

Fuller said police now can go two or three days without receiving a call for service in the neighborhood.

His work isn’t over, however. Although he no longer has to be in the neighborhood constantly, he still maintains visibility and keeps in contact with neighbors.

“Even if you get to a point where things are better, you can’t walk away,” he said. “You have to go back, you have to walk around, take a bike out there.”

As Fuller tackled Goose Creek Heights, the city and police department added more neighborhoods to the program, starting in 2006.

Those areas are Taylor Heights at West 14th and Gaines streets; the Census Tract 128.02 located from West 53rd Street to Duck Creek/Northwest Boulevard to Eastern Avenue; NETS East from Kirkwood Boulevard to East 6th Street and Brady Street to Bridge Avenue; Heatherton Drive; and downtown NETS.

Harris, assigned to Taylor Heights, patrolled the neighborhood on a warm August night. He stopped occasionally to wave or talk to residents who were out in the streets.

“What’s going on guys?” Harris asked a group of kids eating cupcakes and snacks by a car.

One of the kids replied that it was the 10th birthday of one of the girls in the group.

“Happy birthday - don’t eat all the cupcakes,” he joked.

“Don’t eat all the doughnuts,” the birthday girl shot back.

Harris said that although some of his interactions with neighbors have been positive, other residents have been more apprehensive.

“It’s sometimes harder to earn people’s trust,” Harris said.

Harris and other NETS officers meet monthly with residents and landlords to hear their concerns and inform them of the thing happening - criminal or otherwise - in the neighborhood.

Harris said one challenge in the neighborhood has been the number of shots-fired calls.

“These (NETS) officers are passionate and take ownership of their neighborhoods, so when something bad happens, they take it personally,” Harris said. “They see it as a reflection of their hard work. It’s hard not to take it personal.”

The number of shots-fired calls in the city this year has climbed to more than 130, an increase from last year.

Interim Police Chief Paul Sikorski said earlier this month that the department has reallocated all of its resources, including the NETS officers, to create a quick response force specifically to deter gun violence and make arrests for gun-related crimes.

Harris said recent shootings have caused the NETS unit to go “back to the basics.”

Within 12 hours of a shooting or other incident, NETS officers canvass the neighborhood on foot and knock on doors to “reintroduce ourselves” and reassure residents that they can call officers if they see or hear anything.

The department has tried to pinpoint specific homes and locations where violence or other criminal activity has occurred and to work with landlords on developing a plan to help solve the problem, Harris said.

At one abandoned property at 14th and Brown streets, officers discovered a shotgun that became visible after the lawn was mowed and the bushes were trimmed. The department worked with the landlord to put up a no trespassing sign to keep people out, Harris said.

“Ideally, you want to see people taking better care of the properties and taking pride in the neighborhood,” Harris said.

Fuller and Harris said the successes seen in the NETS neighborhoods are, in large part, because of the cooperation of community organizations, active landlords and residents who want to see their neighborhoods flourish.

Fuller said a major accomplishment in Goose Creek Heights is the creation of the Family Enrichment Center, a nonprofit organization that provides educational, social and recreational services to children in the neighborhood.

The center at 300 W. 59th St., which was completed in October 2014, offers a Head Start program and various family-friendly activities throughout the year.

“Our goal as an organization is to start with the younger kids and then build a support system for the younger kids all the way through schooling,” Kevin Kellums, executive director, said.

Providing those services to children when they are young may just keep them from a life of crime, he said.

“Fundamentally, the kids that are in these classes and the kids we’re working with at school, the outcomes are going to be different,” Kellums said. “They’re not going to be in the streets, and they’re not going to be shooting, and they’re not going to be getting into trouble because they’re going to be more focused.”

Kellums, who for years ran a youth ministry that included children from Goose Creek, said he began to see changes in the neighborhood in 2008 when the Family Enrichment Center organization began.

The NETS unit was in full swing, the neighborhood association had formed, and landlords started to step up.

“I think everyone had a game plan,” he said. “Communication started opening up. We really came in on the tail end of when things started turning around. We’re just another piece of the puzzle.”

Joyce Klopp is a resident of the Taylor Heights neighborhood and director of The Lydia Home, 1431 N. Ripley St., a Christian-based program that offers after-school and summer programs.

The building, which was purchased more than 20 years ago, used to be the home of the Brick House Bar.

Klopp said she has definitely seen a positive change in the neighborhood since the NETS program began.

“I think there are safety concerns in any neighborhood,” she said. “We always have to be proactive. Perceptions last a long time, and so our goal is to change those perceptions.”

Klopp said it’s not uncommon now to receive a phone call or email from an officer to let her know about things that are happening in the neighborhood.

Officers frequently attend events hosted by the center, which will soon be known as the Hope at the BRICK (Building Relationships In Christ’s Kingdom) House, and come in to talk to kids about what they do.

The kids’ reaction to the officers has been mixed, Klopp said.

“There is some mistrust because many of them only see police in situations when someone is being arrested,” she said. “So, to have officers engage personally with them at a different level is important. It gives our kids a perspective of truth and consequences of breaking the law.”


Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com

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