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Cops walk the beat, solve community problems

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Officer Russ McClain, left, holds an umbrella for Dorothy Daniels while walking her home on Oct. 11, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Beth Velliquette
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The days of a cop walking the beat, knowing everyone on the block, stopping to chat with neighbors and urging people who don’t belong there to move along aren’t the days of old. They are the days of now.

On Wednesday, the Greenville Police Department introduced six police officers who have been assigned to be neighborhood officers, and they have a different job than most police officers. Instead of responding to calls, they spend their time in their zones, talking to residents, educating them about how to prevent crimes, arranging for trash pickup and talking to property managers.

Officer Samuel Paldino works the East Zone, and for nearly a month, he focused most of his attention on River Bluff Road, which is located near the intersection of East 10th Street and Greenville Boulevard. It sits between several apartment complexes that have traditionally been considered student housing. On June 27, Rufus Gregory Stancil, 26, was shot to death as he stood talking with some people in a parking lot at River Bluff. Another man was seriously wounded, and police charged a 27-year-old man from Conetoe with the murder.

After that, police received more calls about trouble in the area, so he began working in the neighborhood, talking to residents to build their trust and working with the property manager. 

“We ended up having an investigation out there and served eight search warrants,” he said. “We assisted them in evicting the people from the problem apartments. So far we’ve had about eight people evicted from there.”

Paldino also worked with probation and parole officers and with Greenville Utilities to improve the lighting, as well as with the Public Works Department to improve trash pickup there. 

The goal was to clean up the area, not just by removing people who were causing problems, but also by removing trash and towing away broken down cars.

“A lot of people who don’t live there were hanging out there, and we banned them from the property,” he said. 

Some of them were gang members, and people who lived there were afraid to call police for help because of that, he said.

The neighborhood is calmer now, and residents feel more comfortable in calling the police if there are any problems, Paldino said.

Officer Ryan Kurtz works in the West Zone, and he has made a special friend, who lives near the intersection of Farmville Boulevard and 14th Avenue. That would be Dorothy Daniels, who has lived in her family’s home on and off for about 20 years.

The young people in the neighborhood call her “Auntsie,” and they know they’d better not cuss when she’s around, she said. She’s gotten to know the neighborhood officers in her area, and she calls them her “sons.”

If she sees a problem in the neighborhood, she tells her sons.

There used to be a spot right across the street on a grassy lot, where people brought their chairs and just hung out day and night, drinking, talking and smoking, she said.

They aren’t there anymore, she said.

“It’s been about eight months now because some of my boys came by and moved those chairs over there,” Daniels said. “It was like they were home. All they needed was a TV.”

Just then one of her boys, Officer Russ McClain, walked up to her house in the pouring rain.

“Hey, sweetheart,” she called out to him.

“This is my baby,” she said about McClain.

Kurtz also works in that area and said they’re talking to people, making note of abandoned houses, arranging for vacant lots to be cleaned up and the trash hauled away.

There are a number of abandoned homes and trailers in the neighborhood, many of which are too far gone to repair. They attract trouble, like drug users and prostitutes, who come from other areas and sneak or break into the abandoned houses. Kurtz is working with the city to identify those houses to get them boarded up and eventually torn down.

“It’s a long process,” he said.

He also works on crime prevention through environmental design, which has to do with keeping bushes and trees trimmed and improving outdoor lighting to eliminate places where people could hide.

That also generates pride in the neighborhood as the residents see how nice their neighborhoods start to look when everyone works at keeping it beautiful.

Then there’s the art, he said.

Art?

Yes, believe it or not, art reduces crime, Kurtz said.

For example, they’re working on the possibility of having local artists paint the boarded-up windows of abandoned homes. Studies have shown that painting the figure of a person on a boarded-up window seems to reduce crime, he said.

It also adds to the beautification of the neighborhood, he said.

Mayor Kandie Smith dropped by to show support for the community police initiative, which began in July.

She wants police officers to build relationships with residents so that residents can learn to trust the officers.

“Think about who solves crimes,” she said. “The community solves crimes because of they information they give to police. If they trust the police, they’ll share the information.”

Officer Allison Blackmon works in the East Zone, which includes several student apartment complexes.

“We have an issue of vehicle B and Es,” she said. “We’re trying to go at that issue from every angle.”

First, they’re trying to teach students to lock their vehicles and the doors to their apartments. Although they may have come from small towns where they didn’t need to do that, they need to learn to remove all valuable items from their vehicles and keep them locked, she said.

“We’ve taken over 700 reports for car break-ins this year, and about 100 guns were stolen out of them,” Blackmon said.

They’re also out talking to property managers about how to improve the safety in their complexes, which includes removing trash and old cars, cutting back the landscaping and making it easier for people to see what’s going on around their apartments.

The good thing about being a neighborhood cop is that they can take their time and talk to people because they aren’t being called away for other calls, she said.

On any given day, they may be in touch with Greenville Utilities, Public Works, Probation and Parole, the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, the Code Enforcement office and the gang unit in an attempt to solve problems that a neighborhood is experiencing, she said.   

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566.

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