Saturday, August 25, 2007

How to stop a thousand crimes

Well, it happened again, right under our noses, another home invasion - ugly, violent and scary. It's happening with alarming frequency in our town and this particular time, it was in the apartment complex on Northwood drive – the old Woodhollow apartments where Goose Creek runs under Garth Road.

Is it time to throw our hands up and surrender to criminals, or should we demand our city leaders do something?" "How can I as an ordinary citizen make a difference? Is it already too late?" "Should I crawl into my safe place and hide? I just wish there is something I could do!" "Why doesn't the police department do something?" "I'm too afraid to go shopping in Baytown".

These are questions and statements Baytonians are making. People are asking what the solution is and I'm going to answer them here today in this column, so get your pencil ready. The way to stop a thousand crimes is by stopping one crime at a time.

*In the wee midnight hour I was parking my car - In this dimly lit town, I was attacked by two thugs, who took me for a mug - and shoved me down on the ground…

If we as citizens want to make a difference in crime, we have to support each other and the Baytown Police department. It sounds so simple, how could it possibly be the answer? Our new City Manager and the Mayor are making crime a number one priority.

On September 10th, at the next meeting of the group known as Baytown Concerned Citizens (BCC), we are going to ask city hall to initiate a much more aggressive stance on traffic violators, because the number one way to catch a crook is by pulling them over for a traffic violation. Criminals have the greatest disregard for the law and the easiest way to break the law - is in a car. BPD will be asked to push resources to get more traffic cops active. There is a direct correlation between catching crooks with warrants and pulling people over for tickets.

Baytown experiences as many as four hit and run accidents every day, a number that is astounding and according to Capt. Clifford, it's because they either do not have insurance or they have warrants. Guess who gets to pay for your car…yuppers, you do. If you are pulled over for a traffic violation and you don't have proof of insurance, you go to jail and your car is impounded and one more offender is removed from our streets. We simply have to have more patrol officers writing tickets.

To all of us hard working honest citizens, what this means is we have to make some adjustments in our driving habits…me included. I've become very relaxed in my compliance to traffic laws.

*And they pulled out a knife, and I fought my way up - As they scampered from the scene. Well this is no New York Street, and there's no Bobby on the beat -And things ain't just what they seem…

Next, we are going to ask BPD to install a substation in the Northwood Drive apartment complex and arrest criminals on what they believe is safe turf. The data afforded us on www.hotpursuit.com shows that this complex is a hotspot where criminals congregate and feel a certain amount of impunity. We want to take that away from them. If they flee like the roaches they are, we'll ask to move the substation to their new rat hole.

We are not going to expect overnight success or results and we know it will take resources and planning and we are going to proceed with patience. The troubles came about slowly and we are willing to accept the fact that the solution will take determination and persistence.

Someone asked me the other day if the BCC group would burn itself out as soon as things get better. I told them we are in it for the long haul and we are approaching this as a long-term effectual work. We are trying to avoid over-zealous knee-jerk reactions actions that ride mainly on emotion and instead focus on promoting behavior changes in law-abiding citizens. We want to make our town a place criminals avoid.

*Who would think this could happen in a city like this? Along Baytown's varied and pleasant streets, and we must remember as we go through September among these dark industry complexes, if there's such a thing as justice we could take them out and flog them in the nearest field - and it might be a lesson to the vermin of the system…

Next, you may be asking how one person can make a difference and I have the answer to that too. We start watching our neighborhood and band together with our neighbors to watch out for each other. If our area has a Neighborhood Watch group already, we join it and urge them to use the www.hotpursuit.com web site to exchange information. If no group exists, then (you – yes you) start one. It takes no special skills or expertise, but using a computer makes it easier to get the
word out.

Can an apartment complex like the one on Northwood Drive, or Village Lane have a Neighborhood Watch group? Absolutely! It is ludicrous to believe that the majority of people in one of these higher crime areas are complicit. Remember Ms. Lillie and her 911's! She called 911 over 2000 times to stop crime in the Oak Edition. Most of these people hate crime and are threatened by the dope, knifings, and prostitution that have a foothold in their complex. Call the Crime Prevention Officer Larry Aldrich at 281-420-5376 and find out what you can do to make your neighborhood safer.

The September 10th 6pm meeting at the community building on Market Street will be the first meeting where citizens will receive instruction by the Crime Prevention Unit. So… Baytown - take heart. Through our help, the Baytown Police Department will knock out crime in our city, one criminal at a time.

* Lyrics - Golden Autumn Day - Van Morrison/BB

Saturday, August 18, 2007

United We Stand

As I sit at my desk writing this weeks column, Hurricane Dean is “screaming into the Gulf”, as one reporter put it. I checked the National Weather Service web site and the storm hasn’t even made it to Jamaica. I’m almost afraid to turn the radio dial to KTRH 740 AM, because they are probably giving minute-by-minute updates.

My first experience with a hurricane took place in July of 1970. It wasn’t much of a storm as far as hurricanes go and I sat it out with friends at an apartment complex in Pasadena. I don’t even remember its name.

Move forward to 1983 and I saw what a bad storm could do. Hurricane Alicia slammed into my side of Baytown, swallowing Brownwood and pushing my house into a bind. I lost my garage, eleven trees and my electricity for about a month. My wife and I and our two babies sat it out in the dark, wind howling and screaming and making the noise a locomotive makes when it’s under a full load.

About 3am, a limb flew through my living room window. We were helpless. I made the decision, which was a bad one, to attempt to get to my mother-in-law’s brick home on Bolster Street, in Pelly. My bride, our babies and I loaded up in my trusty GMC “truck of many colors”, which was capable of accomplishing feats unimaginable (all men think their truck is a Sherman tank).

With winds gusting about 90 miles per hour, I slowly backed out onto Ashby Street which was on the back side of Exxon, close to Park Street and Bayway Drive, only to find to my amazement that the gigantic cottonwood tree next to my house had fallen across the street. I never even heard it. What I did hear was the air conditioning and fans stop when the tree fell and pulled my electrical service box off my house. What if it had fallen on my house, I thought!

Motoring the opposite direction at about 5 mph, I soon was stopped by another downed tree and electrical lines popping and snapping on the road. With mounting anxiety, I realized I had made some very bad choices and the worst part was I had put my precious family in jeopardy.

Needless to say, we sat the storm out at our homestead, or what was left of it. My house set on piers and the high winds had literally pushed the house catawampus, so it was teetering on some piers, off others and inches away from falling over. I had to kick the back door open to get out and then I couldn’t close it. It was August and it was hot and steamy.

My brother-in-law, John Lusk and I drove around town to survey the damage and ended up on the stretch of Highway 146 leading up to the Baytown/La Porte Tunnel. Debris and flotsam were everywhere and the roads looked like the disaster area that it had become. Folks were wandering around on foot, braving the winds that were still so strong, that everyone was walking like drunken sailors.

I remember seeing about 5 boats, a large commercial ice freezer, a trailer and hundreds of crates, boxes and items strewn all across the roadside and asphalt.

I’ll never forget a very strange sight that will most likely never be repeated in front of me. The wind was blowing very hard and as John and I stood observing the destruction, I beheld a dove in stop flight about 50 feet above me. It was flapping its little wings as hard as it could, but wasn’t moving forward. It evidentially lifted its wing, because the wind suddenly sent it flying backwards. It carried about 50 feet and the poor bird hit its head on a power line, effectively killing it. The stout wind carried its tumbling body halfway across Black Duck bay before it touched down.

I looked over at John and said, “Did you see that?” and he indicated he didn’t. The dove was so far away; when I looked back, I couldn’t remember where it landed. Hurricane Alicia had taken one more victim and most likely, only I had witnessed it.

The reason the weather service and KTRH are sensationalizing this next storm is because hurricanes kill people and destroy whole neighborhoods and cities. Take precautions folks and if it heads this way…leave. Grab your valuables and go!

We showed the whole world we Baytonians have a giving and generous spirit when Katrina and Rita rolled through. We know how to do it.

When it’s over, we’ll help each other put it all back together. I know we will.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Crime-fighting group sets next meeting

By Barrett Goldsmith
Baytown Sun Published August 16, 2007

A citizens group aiming to curb crime in Baytown will hold a second meeting Sept. 10, this one featuring a more prominent role for the city and the Baytown Police Department.

The group first met Aug. 7 at the El Toro restaurant on Garth Road, where organizers solicited written comments from citizens fed up with rising crime in the area. The written comments, which number more than 30, will form the basis of a recommendation to Baytown City Council. But Bert Marshall, one of the group’s founders, said going before Council is still “down the road.”

“We’re not trying to do a blitzkrieg on the city,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to make Baytown safer and keep it that way. We’re trying to cut through all the red tape and see what the citizens themselves can do working with city hall and the police department to have a united effort.”

The meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in a meeting room of the Baytown Community Center, will feature a presentation from the BPD Crime Prevention Unit, showing citizens how they can protect themselves, their families and their property from crime. Following the presentation, Police Chief Byron Jones will take written questions from the public, which must be e-mailed to Marshall at baytownbert(at)gmail.com.

Capt. Roger Clifford, head of investigations, said BPD is excited about the group’s popularity and its commitment to reducing crime in Baytown.

“We’re looking forward to working with these folks,” Clifford said. “We see the need. We’re just as alarmed as they are about the spikes in violent crimes. The only way we can address this issue is to work with our citizens. We’re all for it.”

From the start, the group now calling itself Baytown Concerned Citizens has leaned heavily on the Internet for its operations. The first meeting was scrapped together in about three days almost exclusively on Baytown Talk, the Baytown Sun’s community message board, and drew about 70 citizens.

Now the group operates through www.hotpursuit.com, a Web site created by citizen Mike Kercher. The site features a searchable database of all reported crimes back to July, and an interactive map showing where in town those crimes have taken place. The site also features a community message board of its own, which as of Wednesday boasted 140 members.

At the Sept. 10 meeting, Baytown Mayor Stephen DonCarlos will also take questions from citizens. DonCarlos said Baytown Concerned Citizens was going about its task the right way.

“I would encourage them not to spend time assigning blame but look at other areas that have successful crime prevention programs and come up with creative ways in which the public can be involved, along with the police department,” DonCarlos said. “It’s not a problem that has occurred overnight nor will it be solved overnight. We need to make our city unattractive to crime.”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Baytown Concerned Citizens – Front and Center

Whew! A lot has happened here in Baytown since last Sunday’s article. The city of Baytown calls an $82.5 million bond package election, a local teen is charged with felony murder in the deaths of four companions, Garry Brumback is approved as city manager, it is revealed Hakeem Olajuwon has purchased 1,250 acres of undeveloped land in Chambers County near Baytown and a group calling itself Baytown Concerned Citizens is organizing to help City Hall and the Baytown Police Department…fight crime.

Although all are newsworthy and demand attention and comments, I want to address crime and what citizens are doing to bring it into control. As you may have heard, about 70 citizens gathered last Monday night at El Toro’s on Garth Road for a whirlwind meeting to address the crime problem.

Input from citizens will be presented to city council in the near future in the form of recommendations – not demands. Send recommendations and concerns via email here: baytownbert@gmail.com

Let’s look back about one year. In June of 2006, various crimes in town provoked me to write this article: In August of 2006, I asserted crime was spinning out of control here in Baytown. The article is here: In September of 2006, I wrote about Baytown crime here: And then again in December of 2006, I wrote an article about the increase of crime in our city and it is located here:

In April 2007 I posted the Survival Guide for Baytown (or any other city) here:

The August article was picked up by the Houston Chronicle and an interview was granted, although reluctantly. Houston tends to see Baytown as a ghetto environment and while even local citizens may debate that, I feel we have problems that are better handled by Baytonians, than by the eager to criticize public at large. The next time we caught the public eye was over North Main’s Dirty Dozen and I refused a Channel 11 interview; citing local issues were best left to locals.

We are back in the mainstream news and this time it involves the Houston Chronicle & Fox TV News, with more soon to follow. They are talking and its negative Baytown - again. This past week I talked on the phone with a Chronicle reporter for the better part of an hour about our citizen’s crime initiative and I repeatedly requested that Baytown would not be painted as an ugly picture. We have problems that we can turn around and I told them we are in the process of addressing those issues through community involvement.

I told them Baytown was made up of hard-working dedicated people who are working 40 to 80 hours a week and while we toil, crooks spoil. We are tired of crooks, both homegrown and visitor/criminal shoppers, taking advantage of us. With our booming population, our city is under siege and we are not going to sit on our laurels and be victimized any longer.

Rumors are flying and allegations of internal strife inside the police department are beginning to surface also. The department itself is keeping mum, but if this is true, it will only add to the crime problem. Citizens are sick and tired of the wave of increasingly violent and bold crime we are experiencing and if there is indeed strife inside the ranks of our police department, it needs to come to a halt immediately. We need cohesion inside BPD for it to be effective, especially at a time like this.

The Neighborhood Watch Programs are being revitalized and reorganized as I write this. Mike Kercher, Jerry Cates, a lady known only as Kimber and myself are doing our dead level best to get information out to the public through a website Mike set up here: http://www.hotpursuit.com I urge all honest folks from Baytown and the surrounding areas to register and find the section at the top of the page marked Neighborhood Watches where you can track crime and discuss your local group. If you are currently active in a Neighborhood Watch group, by all means register and begin using the site to trade information.

This wonderful use of the Internet is a tool is in its infancy and will grow with your input. It will become a very important part of fighting crime in the city and surrounding areas.

The goal of Baytown Concerned Citizens will be to work with City Council and the Baytown Police Department to stop crime in its tracks. At no time are we advocating violence or vigilante justice. We are however actively recruiting vigilant and observant citizens, who are willing to make that 911 phone call to stop crime and make our city a place felons are reluctant to visit.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Group talks about how to make Baytown safer

By Barrett Goldsmith
Baytown Sun
Published August 7, 2007

More than 70 citizens packed the back room of El Toro on Monday night to begin the process of “taking back Baytown” from criminals who some believe have made the area a dangerous place to live in recent months.

The gathering was meant to garner written comments and ideas for how to make Baytown safer, which organizers ultimately hope to bring before City Council at a future meeting. The organizers themselves are folks who banded together on Baytown Talk, The Baytown Sun’s community message board, spurred by a letter in the newspaper about a reported assault at Barracuda Beach Club.

“Everyone here knows that crime is out of hand,” said Bert Marshall, who chaired the meeting. “People here are tired of the crime, they’re scared of the crime, and they want to do something about it.”

Marshall said the meeting would create a “course of action” that culled all the ideas and concerns of citizens into a working plan. But in the mean time, Marshall said, citizens should re-think their behavior and become more vigilant, both of themselves and their neighbors.

“We also want to teach the citizens who are tired of the crime to stop doing the things that make it easy for criminals,” Marshall said. “A lot the crime in this area is self-inflicted. It’s about making small changes in our way of life to make ourselves and our families safer.”

Fellow organizer Jerry Cates said the group would work with the city and with the Baytown Police Department, rather than pointing fingers or working against those organizations. He said the process would take time, and that ultimately the time would pay off.

“Don’t expect this to happen overnight,” Cates said. “If we’re not organized in what we’re doing, we’re just wasting our time.”

Resident Mike Kercher has set up a Web site, www.hotpursuit.com, that will serve as a hub of neighborhood watch associations throughout the city. Though the feature is not yet up and running, Kercher said it would ultimately compile all daily BPD crime reports into a searchable database to find out when, where and what type of crime was taking place in the city. Kercher said citizens who were unable to make it to Monday night’s meeting could e-mail their suggestions to ideas(at)hotpursuit.com.

Mayor Stephen DonCarlos attended the meeting, as did newly selected city manager Garry Brumback, who is in town for tonight’s National Night Out. DonCarlos praised the huge turnout — on only about three days notice — and said he sensed Monday night was the start of something big.

“I as the mayor have been the victim of crime,” DonCarlos said. “We all live here. Myself and council both understand acutely the problems with crime we as a city have. We can’t do this overnight. We have to start somewhere. But this tonight is the citizens starting somewhere.”

Capt. Roger Clifford and Lt. David Alford, along with detectives and sergeants from BPD, also attended the meeting. Alford said he was excited to see the community response, and he said citizens should all show the same amount of diligence as those that attended.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, call us,” Alford said. “You guys have so much power. The hard part is when you’re at Kroger and you’re in a hurry. Keep an eye out. As an officer, the citizens are your back up. We can’t just have 100 pair of eyes — we need 70,000 eyes. But to see these folks out here, it just fires me up.”

Organizers have not yet set a date for a future meeting, but said they would communicate through Baytown Talk and the Baytown Sun when they make any decisions.

‘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.”

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The bottom line - Get involved.

It would be civically irresponsible of me as a local citizen, if I did not address the ongoing issue of crime in Baytown and surrounding areas.

For some time I’ve read the daily postings on the city of Baytown Police webpage concerning crime reports and as I’ve repeatedly stated, crime is escalating, not just in frequency, but in nature. Criminals are getting bolder and more violent and we hard-working, bread and butter Baytonians are afraid we will be the next victim.

I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like worrying if my car is going to be there when I come out of a store. I don’t want to have to warn my wife about crime every time she leaves the house.

The recent letter to the Baytown Sun concerning a fight at the Barracuda night club, formerly Tiki Bay, has set off a maelstrom of citizen demands for city officials and the police department to “do something”. Once again we Baytonians are up in arms over crime, but I fear emotion is pushing this particular wave and if – something concrete doesn’t come out of all the hoopla, things will fall right back to the former state of every man for themselves we have always enjoyed.

A group of concerned citizens are calling a meeting of all interested citizens to the El Toro’s off of Garth Road in the back room at 7pm, Monday, the 6th of August – tomorrow night. Identify yourself as a Concerned Citizen when you enter.

Email Kimber at this address: kimber45elite@yahoo.com to reserve a seat no later than Monday morning. Write down specific ideas and suggestions for consideration. Do NOT come with a bunch of gripes about the city, the police department or personal beefs, as we want to figure out a way we can all band together to make our city safer INSIDE the law.

The meeting will be conducted in an orderly fashion, or there won’t be another one. We are looking for constructive solutions and there are bound to be some growing pains. Here is an example of ideas I want to address:

1. The Baytown Police Department Crime Reports need to be archived for future reference instead of being wiped clean after seven days.
2. Return the municipal warrants listing to the police website
3. Expand crime report data on the Police web site. I do not believe we are getting a complete listing each day.
4. Neighborhood Watch programs being reestablished.
5. Crime Prevention department coordination meetings.
6. Track crime through daily reports in Excel – need dedicated qualified volunteer.
7. City website postings by City Council on crime progress in their districts.

On www.OurBaytown.com I’ve once again posted the Baytown Crime Initiative to allow citizens to print a form they can mail or hand deliver to Businesses asking for better lighting and security in parking lots. I’ve also listed Baytown’s most wanted criminals on the front page to facilitate viewing.

I guess I’m as guilty of bashing our city council for what they don’t do, as anyone, but here’s something to ponder – they do not get paid for the position. They run for office, but are not monetarily compensated. They have a lot on their plates beside the crime issue – a lot. City planning and recreational facilities are also very important and I think they deserve a hand more often than a slap in the face.

The bottom line is this city needs participants to get it back on track both security wise and appearance wise. It needs you and me. It needs folks to visit each other on Neighbors Night Out and get acquainted. It needs hometown folks to step outside their own homes and places of business and ask themselves “What can I do to make this a better place to live, shop and raise children?”

And finally, our city needs people to slow down and look around. If you see or hear something that looks wrong, call the police and let them do their jobs.

We don't know our left from our right.

I got my first real lesson on what being out of step means when I in was in Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, in ...