I took just a few notes worth passing along but I think they are important things to consider as we see an increased incidence of mischievous behavior in the area, primarily in the form of graffiti.
Chief Roger Burton of the GNW Security "Courtesy Patrol" as one resident pointed out, presented two winners of the National Night Out event. These residents held parties that had the most participation, and they were given gifts from great sponsors as a result. Ms. Betty Hood (who is the NNO coordinator for the GNW) had the biggest party attendance, and she received free Sea World passes. The second largest party was held by the Garza Family, and they received a check for $50. from Jefferson State Bank. It is always nice to see the local merchants come through in support of the community.
Chief Burton introduced us to SAFFE Officer Robles who gave us a brief update on the graffiti situation and on ways to combat the problem. He mentioned the importance of victims of this crime to immediately paint over or clean up the graffiti within 24 hours, and to do so every time it occurs. Equally important, he suggests that if you have a privacy fence in an area prone to graffiti, the best bet is to simply paint the entire fence, then, when the taggers do their "art work" you can cover it in the matching color of the fence. This looks better and definitely beats the appearance of an off color patch of paint on a nice wooded fence. If you get tagged, report it. Take pictures of it, and if you see the little bastards, try to figure out who they are or at least where the live. Surely you have an idea of the kids who roam up and down your street - don't you?
Next Officer Atkinson from SAPD gave some explanations about police response times, what they can and can't do and some information on ways citizens can get involved.
I was very interested in what Officer Atkinson had to say as my neighbors and I have talked often specifically about the graffiti issue at Oscar Perez Memorial Park. I have been a proponent of calling city hall and complaining that we need more attention paid to these little son's of bitches and their artwork. But Atkinson gave some pretty interesting and sobering statistics.
When he joined the SAPD force in 1987, there were roughly 2,000 officers. He said it was common for a dispatcher to report that they had three or four calls on hold and asking if any officer could respond. That is, several people who had called 9-11 to report a crime had to sit and wait while officers responded to higher priority calls. So, if you reported a theft or something, you were going to have to wait until more urgent matters were handled, then the police could get to you.
In 2007, the SAPD has, according to Officer Atkinson, about fifty more officers on the force, yet the city has grown by about 350,000 residents. Further, he said it is not unheard of for the dispatcher to report that they have fifty calls in the queue. Now imagine if you call in to 9-11 and report that some snotty little Rembrandt has tagged your fence. Guess where you are in that queue of 50 compared to people who have real crimes like stolen cars, robbery, dope deals gone bad and Senators trolling for perverts in the airport restroom.
To give you some perspective, the City of Dallas has 3,400 police officers yet they have 200,000 less residents than the city of San Antonio. ((I know, a lot of people think Dallas is a lot bigger, but the DFW Metroplex has multiple police forces))
I can only assume that Officer Atkinson was making a plea, and he is right to do so, for us residents to call upon Ms. Sheryl Scully and our city council to hire more officers, but I took away a more important point that he was making; when it comes to non-life threatening, nuisance crimes such as vandalism, tagging and disturbances (loud music and barking dogs), calling 9-11 is just creating a larger queue. Where we as residents can help ourselves and help the police and city help us, is to call the right people for the right crime.
San Antonio has an incredible 311 system which my wife and I use regularly. If it has anything to do with the city services that you pay for via your tax dollars, you can learn more about or report through by simply calling 311. They also have a web site here that has loads of information. If we can avoid having granny call the police every time a dead squirrel ends up squished on the street in front of her house, perhaps we can free up the police to help in more important endeavors.
What I also took from Officer Atkinson's talk was that we as citizens can and should do more. They have a few programs he outlined, specifically Cellular on Patrol (COP) and Citizens Police Academy. In both these classes, you learn what is important to notice, what is important to call the police for, what you should not call the police for etc etc. I don't think anybody is suggesting that we take up arms and take to the streets to do battle with the 14-year-olds who lack parental supervision; though at one point during the meeting, I did suggest we find the little hooligans and whip their asses, (even if my wife was outraged at my suggestion). I think the officers are suggesting that we can and should be more vigilant in our communities.
And what is wrong with that? How many of us could use a walk in the evening, just around the block? Why not take note of who belongs on your street and who doesn't,
So anyway, back to the meeting...
Let me leave you with a few thoughts, especially if you are one of the few readers that live in the area. You should really know that the GNW Watch meetings are a treat. Chief Burton is a very capable speaker with a down to earth southern drawl and an ability to communicate his message of safety and security. With PowerPoint slides of maps of the neighborhood, he shows where different calls to the "Courtesy Patrol" originate, which streets are problem areas, and every so often, details of the call. I especially enjoyed the highlight of a major theft reported to him - the loss of a trash can lid.
One area we may need a little work on though, is understanding what you should not do at meetings of this nature; give little anecdotal reports about your particular street or neighbors. In other words, raising your hand during the question and answer session of a neighborhood-wide meeting to report that you think the neighbor kid plays the stereo too loud is not an appropriate use of the time*.
* Suffice it to say, I'm being very diplomatic here: I could write an hour's worth of questions or "reports" that if people are worried about, they should contact security, 311, or their congressman via e-mail or the phone, but not prolong the meeting because they have a captive audience.