Wednesday, August 08, 2007

‘We want changes’

By Barrett Goldsmith
Baytown Sun
Published August 8, 2007

If feedback from a Monday meeting at El Toro is any indication, Baytonians fed up with increased crime want more officers, more vigilant neighbors and a commitment from the city to tighten up security at retail stores and public places.

The meeting was meant to create a course of action for reducing crime in n Baytown. Organizers are sifting through about 30 written comments from citizens that will serve as the basis for a comprehensive plan to make the city safer.

“We need changes now,” reads a typical comment. “No matter what the stats say, we have a crime problem. That should be the No. 1 priority.”

Bert Marshall said the group would analyze the comments and streamline them into a series of recommendations to Baytown City Council. Marshall did not say when they would make a presentation, though he said it was at least a month away.

“We will go before the city because we want to go on the record with our recommendations,” Marshall said. “We’re already gathering information. The city’s going to know exactly what we want. The hydraulic effect of everybody pushing in the same direction is going to have a tremendous effect on the city. Crime fighting can be fun, and it’s contagious.”

The comments themselves give some clues about where the group’s ultimate focus may lie. The most common sentiment is predictable – more police officers on the streets, increased patrols and shorter response times.

“We need more policemen patrolling all over town,” said one comment, while another said the response time to incidents is “dismal.”

Several comments call for pay raises and increased benefits for officers.

“This job requires the officers to risk their lives daily, and they are paid far less than any plant worker,” one respondent said.

The city is in the midst of hiring 14 officers with monies from a Crime Control Prevention District tax, and is also attempting to hire five more officers in the upcoming budget. Through June, the city has seen a 2 percent increase in crime from last year.

A major concern of those who responded is safety at area businesses, especially retail stores and San Jacinto Mall. Those locations have seen a number of high-profile incidents in recent months, and citizens are worried that neighborhood watch and other programs designed to protect residents are not effective in policing those areas.

“I am concerned about all the crime on Garth Road, Baker Road and I-10,” reads one comment. “I don’t shop at our mall, Kroger’s or Wal-mart anymore. Businesses don’t have neighborhood watch. We need to pass city ordinances.”

Other citizens expressed the belief that the City is focusing on projects – such as those in the upcoming November bond election – at the expense of crime and safety. But Baytown Mayor Stephen DonCarlos said the city could make Baytown safer without sacrificing necessary improvements to make the area a better place to live.

“I think that we can improve security while we improve the quality of life for our citizens, DonCarlos said. “Security is important, and we are committed to devoting efficient monies to seriously attack crime in our city. But I don’t think it’s a problem that can be solved just by throwing money at it. We have to attack all the problems, while putting security at the head of the list.”

Other common themes include stepping up enforcement of underage curfew violations, improved lighting in public spaces and cleaning up dilapidated buildings and other areas where potential criminals can conduct illicit business. Several citizens said the city needs more places for young people to have fun and hang out without resorting to crime.

Marshall said some see a fundamental misconception about the group’s aims on the part of some citizens. The group is meant to work with the city, local neighborhood watch programs and the Baytown Police Department, and the process will take time, Marshall said.

“There are some people that were disappointed because they wanted a silver bullet,” Marshall said. “The truth of the matter is that the crooks are going to force us to take some of our time and effort to take back our city. I think some people thought we were going to have a meeting and have everybody talk and have an angry mob stand before City Council and make demands. But that’s not the solution and that’s not going to help.”

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