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Neighborhood watch groups helped trigger gains against violent crime:

March 7, 2005

Folks living inside the Indianapolis Police Department's current district worry a new distribution of police after a merger means a return to more crime-particularly the violent crime they remember from the late 1990s.

Violent crime in IPD's district peaked in 1998, when 7,856 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults were reported. It has dropped 27 percent in the six years since then.

A decade ago, Waldine Anderson started a crime watch for her block on Indianapolis' north side, between 46th and 49th streets off of College Avenue. She remembers when dealers openly sold drugs out of 11 nearby houses. One day in 1995, a shootout between them frightened a little boy into the street, where he was killed by a passing car.

"Crime was moving into our neighborhood and taking it over," she said. "People were up in arms to do something, and we did."

Once organized, residents quickly realized there's strength in numbers. Today, Anderson is executive director of the C.D.D. Crime Watch, which stretches across 21 blocks in the IPD's North District. Progress was incremental. But working closely with the police, Anderson said, the neighborhood began to recover.

"We still have our problems. I'm not going to lie to you. But they're not as bad," she said. "Ten years ago, my god, you couldn't even give away a house in this area. Now we've got homes selling for more than $1 million."

A group of elderly residents formed the Westside Crime Watch Club eight years ago near the eastern border of Wayne Township. Its captain, Patricia Bollinger, attributes the area's decrease in crime to their close interaction with IPD.

"We were just tired of the prostitution, the drugs, the dope and the gangs," she said. "When we first started the crime watch, you didn't come down Concord [Street] to Walnut [Street]. That was your life."

"We got to a point where we were so scared, we weren't going to walk out our doors. I'm not going to live that way," Bollinger added. "Now if we catch someone in our neighborhood we don't know, we confront them and get rid of it."

Suburbanites aren't sitting still, either. Many have noticed the MCSD's surging crime rates-particularly theft, which is up 13 percent, and stolen vehicles, up 44 percent, since Sheriff Frank Anderson's election. Some, like their urban counterparts, are fighting back.

Six years ago, a break-in at a neighbor's house during broad daylight prompted Lisa Cole to set up the Saddle brook Central Crime Watch Committee in Pike Township on the city's northwest side. When she tried to report the incident, she worried the information would fall into a "black hole" of daily crime reports. So she gathered local crime statistics from MCSD and presented them to her neighborhood association.

Now, Saddlebrook residents pay offduty sheriff's deputies to patrol their neighborhood. Their presence deters speeding drivers and potential burglars alike. By working closely with police, residents were able to help reduce crime in the area.

"We shouldn't keep our head in the sand," she said. "I think it very definitely does have an effect. That's why it continues to be a line item on our budget."

Although her house was burglarized twice, Marcele Everest, secretary of the Glendale Terrace Crime Watch Group, said she's lucky her Washington Township neighborhood isn't a terribly highcrime area. Residents want to keep it that way, so they got organized to help MCSD.

"We talk to each other more now. I think that's terribly important," she said. "We've become involved in our own welfare. That's the only way it's going to improve."
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