Thursday, January 13, 2011

Project aims to clean up troubled neighborhood

This is a great story in our Informant newsletter about officers who literally are trying to clean up a troubled neighborhood:

While driving around in early 2010 in the Blue Hills neighborhood, a place she’d answered so many calls before, Officer Bonita Cannon knew something had to change.

“I started taking notes on each property, on what I thought may help the neighborhood look more desirable, from paint to merely picking up trash from the yard,” she said. “What would help homeowners if there were services available? What could I do? What could the police do besides respond to calls day in and day out?”

Thus was born Project Blue Hills. The project is a partnership between police and the Blue Hills Neighborhood Association and Community Action Network Center. Officers are going to each of the 3,000 homes in the Blue Hills neighborhood to ask residents what problems they’re having and what services they need. They’re also giving residents lists of resources to which they can reach out to improve their properties.

The Blue Hills neighborhood is roughly bounded by Volker Boulevard on the north, 63rd Street on the south, Paseo Boulevard on the West and Prospect Avenue on the east.

“Every single block you’re on, multiple houses are abandoned,” said Officer Frank Rorabaugh, who is assigned to the Blue Hills CAN Center with Officer Cannon. “There’s a place on Brooklyn where people dump all their trash. People are living in these neighborhoods, and the vast majority of them are good citizens who just don’t know what to do.”

In just four months, Metro Patrol officers have visited 1,264 homes. The biggest complaint they’ve heard from residents so far is about vacant houses. On one block of Wabash, six houses in a row sit empty. Working with City Codes Enforcement and Dangerous Buildings divisions, they’ve gotten three vacant houses torn down and put several more on the waiting list for demolition. They’ve worked to board up and secure many others.

The officers even partnered with Sutherland’s Lumber to provide pest control to help a resident whose house was getting overrun with rats coming from the vacant house next door. Home Depot has offered up free lumber to repair porches in the neighborhood, and Bledsoe’s has volunteered to cut grass at vacant lots. The officers also worked with volunteers to clean up two abandoned properties in the 5600 block of Garfield. Officer Rorabaugh said the Metropolitan Community Service Program, operated by the Kansas City Crime Commission, is now regularly cleaning up the illegal dump on Brooklyn.

Neighborhood clean-up normally isn’t the purview of police, but Officer Rorabaugh said a better-maintained community will displace crime.

“If we can clean up these streets, get rid of a lot of the empty houses where people use narcotics, a lot of this element will move on,” he said.

Officer Cannon said the best part of Project Blue Hills is getting involved with neighbors. She said they’ve given officers valuable information about problem and drug houses.

“We’ve met so many great and wonderful people,” she said. “The citizens … are really excited to see that we aren’t just a uniform. They love that police officers care enough about their neighborhood to bring a positive change.”

But Project Blue Hills won’t be successful with officers alone, Officer Cannon said.

“We hope to motivate each citizen of Blue Hills to care enough to help with revitalizing the Blue Hills Community,” she said.

Officer Cannon has drafted a five-year plan for Project Blue Hills to turn the neighborhood around. She plans to seek grants and other community partnerships to reach that goal.

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