Citizens, community leaders and police officers walked the streets of Old Town Tuesday night in an effort to promote familiarity between neighbors and create a foundation to combat local crime.
The partnered with Familias Latinas to host a community walk of the Old Town neighborhood as part of South City’s first participation in National Night Out.
“The Old Town neighborhood is an ideal spot to show the community coming together,” said Mayor Kevin Mullin. “The city can only do so much. Our success is really dependent on the citizens of this neighborhood coming together.”
This year marks the 28th annual National Night Out aimed at preventing crime in local communities. The occasion has special meaning for the Old Town community as neighbors have seen an increase in violent crime and gang activity in the past year, Mullin said.
“Even though it’s a national event we’ve had some very serious issues concerning public safety,” Mullin said of the Old Town neighborhood.
The group set out on a 1.25-mile walk from the UFCW Union Hall with balloons and signs, talking to neighbors who they passed about HOTHRA and their hopes for the neighborhood.
Councilmember Pedro Gonzalez and Mayor Mullin led the group with Police Chief Michael Massoni following behind.
“Get to know who your neighbors are, work together and look out for each other,” Massoni advised. “Everybody has eyes, so if you see something unusual give us a call.”
There are only so many police officers in South City, Massoni said, but by building a foundation of neighborhood support, crime can be reduced. Massoni also said every citizen should actively learn what the police department can do and not be intimidated.
“There is the putting on handcuffs part of the job,” he said. “But there’s also the community outreach aspect of it too.”
Lisa DeMattei, former business owner in Old Town, helped coordinate the event with hope that communication between neighbors and the police department will increase.
“I think police will be more receptive when they people in the community,” she said.
DeMattei believes that community policing is essential to the safety of a neighborhood and that it becomes easier to spot suspicious activity when one is aware of their neighbor’s everyday routine. As far as gang activity in the area, she said, parents should become educated on gang signs and activity that is happening close to their home, though it may be difficult.
“A lot of families work several jobs and can’t always be 100 percent aware,” DeMatttei said.
However, she said the police department is making serious efforts to maintain safety.
“I think they’re taking a lot of steps to relieve the tension here,” she said.
Councilmember Gonzalez and Mayor Mullin also recognized the police department and their efforts.
“We’re really trying to change the dynamic of this neighborhood,” Mullin said.
The city, he said, has put many resources into the neighborhood recently but the cooperation and energy of Old Town’s citizens is essential.
“It’s really about keeping the dialogue open,” he said.
Councilmember Gonzalez said HOTHRA began as a response to crime in the neighborhood and is making improvements to further fight local crime.
Gonzalez said that HOTHRA allows communities to voice their concerns to law enforcement officials by creating a safe environment for discussion. By participating in such events as National Night Out, HOTHRA can better serve its community.
“I think we should do this more often and call it HOTHRA night,” he said.
Gonzalez welcomes all members of the community to join with HOTHRA to establish a safe neighborhood, and hopes neighbors will find comfort in the community organization.
“I encourage them to come and speak with us,” he said. “We will take action.”