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Taking Back Richmond One Neighborhood at a Time

Following this story from the CC Times is a report from last night’s North and East Patrol:

Enough is enough, Richmond residents decide

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/20/2009 11:00:00 PM PST

Updated: 11/20/2009 11:46:18 PM PST


They have no weapons or badges. Just cell phones, flashlights and reflective yellow vests purchased from a hardware store.

But there is power in numbers — and in the collective belief that crime and blight will not become a fixture here.

Residents in Richmond's North and East neighborhood have formed an active roving citizen patrol to bring neighbors together, deter crime and curb blight.

"We all live here, and it's sort of up to us to be the first line," said resident djovida, who goes by one name. "You can't depend on police always being available."

They walk the neighborhood of more than 5,000 homes several times a week, day and night.

It started in June, following a rash of robberies and burglaries. Vandals struck with graffiti. Then in midday, someone attacked 79-year-old Euvaldo "Eddie" Sisneros during his daily walk. Sisneros died, and 21-year-old Michael Villalobos faces murder charges in the beating.

Enough, residents said. Enough hand-wringing. Enough talking about it. Enough feeling helpless.

Felix Hunziker heard about the beginnings of a patrol group at the north end of the neighborhood and wondered whether the model could be replicated. He asked his neighbors on a Yahoo groups forum if they'd be willing to have a meeting. Thirteen people showed up. Slowly, momentum began to build.

The group now numbers 35 and is growing. The date for a patrol is announced on Yahoo groups. People show up when

Members also have volunteered to be safety monitors at Richmond High School events following the Oct. 24 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl during the homecoming dance.

Heading out on foot

On a crisp November evening, more than a dozen gathered at Burg Park at 30th Street and Clinton Avenue to begin the evening patrol — men and women of various ages and sizes. They head out on foot, chatting and laughing as they walk. They hit hot spots and blocks where foreclosed houses sit vacant. They greet a young man leaning up against a corner stop sign. They place doorhangers, funded by donations, about who they are on front doors.

"Hi, we're a neighborhood patrol. Would you like a flier?" Hunziker says to a man sitting on his porch.

A parked truck blocks a sidewalk. They slip a city flier under the windshield wiper, alerting the owner that the city's municipal code prohibits sidewalk obstructions.

Overgrown weeds, trash dumped on a roadside, cars on lawns and nonfunctioning streetlights can make a neighborhood unappealing and invite crime. They say they're not picky, but when they spy an obvious code violation, the group leaves a city flier alerting the owner. They submit a report to police and city code enforcement, filing close to 100 since August, resident Will Luckett said. Some violations are fixed before code enforcement officers arrive, he said. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge.

They're watching

To be sure, this is not a militant group. The point is not to apprehend drug-dealers, prostitutes or vandals; that's something they report to police. Their goal is to look out for the neighborhood and show their neighbors and criminals that residents care — and they are watching.

"We're friendly. We're not wannabe cops," Hunziker said. "Our goal is to try to get people together and to act as a deterrent to criminal activities."

It's too soon to tell whether the patrol group has made a statistical difference in crime. But police Chief Chris Magnus has noticed a difference in residents' sense of safety in the neighborhood. He thinks crime, particularly property crimes, will drop over time.

"Some folks in any neighborhood are up to no good, thinking, 'This is a good place to do drug dealing, take up occupancy as a squatter.' They feel a little less free to do that" if a neighborhood patrol is watching, Magnus said. "There is power in bringing people together with a shared interest in what their neighborhood looks like."

Magnus hopes other neighborhoods will start their own roving patrols.

"It's easy to feel helpless," said patrol group member Raelene Coburn, mother of a 20-month-old girl. "This gave me something to do. I can start preventing this from happening again. I feel I get as much as I give."

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.

To learn more about the North and East Neighborhood Patrol, go online to www.patrol.northandeast.org or e-mail patrol@northandeast.org.
starting a group is doable for any neighborhood, say group members and Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus. It requires leadership, follow-through, camaraderie and making patrols enjoyable rather than a chore.
For additional information on forming a neighborhood watch or patrol, call the city crime prevention office at 510-620-6538.


Patrol Report from November 21, 2009:


Tonight's walk - which included Ellen, Janis, Jim, Laurel, Richard, and Felix - was a great example of why we do this patrol.  We met wonderful people, noted a lot of issues, and had a great time getting a little exercise.


We began at Burg Park at 7:30PM, with the everything fresh and crisp following the rains that blew through here today.  The clouds were already breaking up, you could see stars peeking through, and the crescent moon was hanging low in the western sky.  Just a great night to be out.


There was a Pontiac sedan with no plates or temp registration parked across from the orange-painted problem house at Burg Park.  So we took down the VIN, and for good measure the plate number of another car that's often there.  RPD, we hope you run these and hang on to them for future reference.


Continuing down Clinton to Grant School, we ran into Virgina "On The Case" Harrison and helped her load a couple trapped felines into her car.  For those who don't know, she volunteers her own time to get feral cats fixed, fed, and adopted if at all possible.  If you can help Virginia in any way in her selfless work I'm sure she'd appreciate it!


There were 3 young boys running around the dark street at 25th and Downer with sticks, one with a baseball bat.  We talked to them, explaining how running around with clubs without a baseball game going on might give people the wrong impression.  They were receptive, friendly, and curious,  We parted ways, giving each of them a flyer to take home (along with their clubs) to their parents.


Then the best part happened.  There was a yell from down the street from one of the kids, who asked us to wait because his mother wanted to meet us.  In no time at all we were surrounded by 4 Spanish speaking mothers and many of their children, who wanted to know how they could join our patrol group!  With our rudimentary Spanish skills and some translation help from the children, we discussed problems in the area (particularly around Christmas) and got their contact info.  We now have at least 3 more residents to add to our patrol roster!


Incidentally, when we told these parents how we were trying to get a stop sign installed at 26th & Downer, they were very strongly in favor of this.  Given our combined language skills, we agreed to start collecting petition signatures from Downer residents to encourage Engineering to cut through the red tape.


We continued our walk, entering onto Grant campus, and out to 23rd St.  We noted some issues at the two vacant homes at the end of Brooks Ave, and also on Roosevelt one block over.  Seems like every block that's adjacent to 23rd Street has problems.  The 23rd St Redevelopment, and a more engaged 23rd St Merchant's Association, can't come soon enough.


We walked back up Roosevelt, dropped off Laurel, and ended our walk around 10:00PM at Burg Park.


Issues we encountered, and left "Friendly Reminder" notices for as applicable:


2910 Clinton Ave (problem house):  4-door burgundy Pontiac sedan, with no plates or temp registration.  The rear windows have all been blacked with black plastic.  The car has clearly been used by the current owner for some time, but it has a fresh "dealer plate" that reads "Ray's Cars - El Sobrante - 510.223.2112".  The VIN# is 2g4ws52j911206247. 


2910 Clinton Ave (problem house): 4-door white Pontiac sedan, with chrome rims that have white trim.  Plate #5xkt210


714 25th St: blue Toyota Corolla blocking sidewalk, plate #3smc861


2380 Brooks Ave (vacant house): Trash all over front yard


2393 Brooks Ave (boarded up house): Trash in front yard, sideyward gate ajar and will not shut.


2323 Roosevelt Ave (boarded up house): Per neighbors, recurring drug use by a man and woman in back of building, broken sideyard gates, sideyard and entry shows sign of homeless occupation, including the reek of urine.


2325-2331 Roosevelt Ave: gang tags and other graffiti at SW corner of apartment complex.  It's on walls, paving, and the wood fence, adjacent to 2323 Roosevelt Ave.

3101 Barrett Ave: boat and trailer permanently parked on 31st St (still!)

518 31st St: silver Honda blocking sidewalk, plate #5cof983