- Associated Press - Sunday, March 19, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Residents of a Lincoln neighborhood and police say a spike in crime ultimately bonded residents to the officers who protect them.

Violent crime dropped last year in the Belmont area, Lincoln police statistics said, but four homicides occurred there in 2016. Of the 12 Belmont arsons reported in three years, eight happened last year, according to the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/2mBGxXs).

Capt. Anthony Butler, who leads the Lincoln Police Department’s team in the area, said homicides weren’t an issue until 2016.

“I can’t explain it. It’s just a strange anomaly taking place,” Butler said.

His team took the year hard.

“You care about the people, you care about that area and you start to take it personally,” Butler said.

Police started to re-evaluate their patrol tactics in Belmont after the eight arsons and four homicides in one year. They realized the need for more of a presence at three apartment complexes and began fostering better relationships with apartment managers.

“We’re meeting them to ask what they’re seeing,” Butler said. “We’ve noticed the apartment managers are more willing to talk to us now.”

A small portion of the neighborhood residents account for much of the crime there.

“If you meet everyone who lives there, it’s a lot of good and decent people,” said Sgt. Chris Vigil. “The vast majority of people are good and just want a safe space to live in.”

Officers have been working to form better relationships with all of Belmont’s residents. They started by going door-to-door to introduce themselves. Midway through the year the department hosted what organizers called community conversations.

“It was a very lengthy conversation,” Butler said. The goal: Making people comfortable contacting police for help.

“I really do believe we, as the police, can only go so far on our own,” Butler said. “If you don’t have the backing of the community, it’s almost like working with one hand behind your back.”

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