Thursday, October 12, 2000

Grants sow change, hope

Program to curb drugs, crime

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Neighborhood activists with some federal money and extra police backup are bringing change to one of Cincinnati's troubled urban neighborhoods.

        Evanston is home to too many loiterers, too many drug dealers and too many kids with not enough to do — problems shared by many other large, aging city neighborhoods.

[photo] Cincinnati Police Officer Alvin Triggs says the parking lot of the Evanston Recreational Center is safer than it was several years ago.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        But also getting rooted in Evanston is Weed and Seed, a federal grant program aimed at curbing crime, making police officers well-known in the community, and giving neighbors help with things like tutoring and getting a high-school diploma.

        In essence: Police “weed” out the bad things just as community folks plant new help.

        “Evanston has been the kind of place where every body knows you, where people look out for each other's kids,” said Yvonne Brown, a 30-year resident and community council member. “That's what we're trying to bring back.”

        More than 200 neighborhoods across the country, including one in Hamilton, are sites for Weed and Seed, a program started a decade ago by the U.S. Department of Justice. Covington wants to become a designated site too, as does Madisonville, whose residents are work ing on a proposal.

        Evanston's second pot of money is expected any day — another $50,000 for police overtime, a new $50,000 grant to attack truancy and another $125,000 for other social-service programs such as exercise for senior citizens and leadership lessons for kids.

        A year into the program, it's too soon to quantify its success, officials say.

        But there are some indicators, anecdotal things such as kids now being able to practice cheerleading in a parking lot off a corner less populated with drug dealers. And 30 elementary students working with tutors to bring up their grades.

        Police also take some pride in the reduction of crime in the neighborhood.

        The number of serious crimes — murder, rape, robbery, car theft, burglary and assault — has decreased from 645 in 1997, to 517 in 1998 and 339 for the first eight months of this year, Cincinnati police statistics show.

        There is still room for improve ment. A 16-year-old Withrow High student was found dead recently on a Clarion Avenue lawn. It was the second homicide in just over a year on the street, which is graced with large, old homes and a mix of long-time residents and renters. At the corner of Clarion and Montgomery, however, crack dealers can be found leaning on cars midday.

        “I consider this to be my home,” said Officer Alvin Triggs, Evanston's neighborhood officer. “And I want my home to be in order.”

Funds aid police
        Evanston got its first Weed and Seed money a year ago — $175,000, $50,000 of it to pay police officers overtime to work special details in the neighborhood.

        Officer Triggs loves doing the extra details, for the surprise factor. The drug dealers and other criminals generally know his schedule. Some even call the district to find out when he's working.

        But with the extra money, his shifts sometimes started earlier and ended later, confusing the bad guys.

        “It's great,” he said. “I'd have people say to me, "Man, when are you going home?' I'd just tell them, "You never know.'”

        The most difficult part of the plan will be neighborhood restoration, predicted Jay Jordan, executive director of the Coalition of Neighbor hoods, a United Way agency helping run the grant here. Evanston has started with monthly meetings of officials and business owners to talk about how to draw other business people to the area.

        “That part's going to be slow initially,” Mr. Jordan said. “People have to be kind of patient. But the people involved are enthusiastic about it.”

        Forty percent of the $125,000 must go to the four Evanston Safe Havens, sites set up to offer a wide variety of programs to residents. Things such as:

        • Exercise classes for senior citizens at the recreation center;

        • Computer training at Hoffman School to help residents get better jobs; • Mentoring and tutoring programs at St. Leger apartments.

        There's a crime prevention fair in the works for Oct. 26.

        And as federal officials predicted, the Weed and Seed designation also has helped Evanston attract other money, including a federal grant for a new community prosecution program.

        That funding puts assistant prosecutor Ernie McAdams into the neighborhood to work on cases. That gives him more direct contact with police and the neighborhood's probation officer, making them all more effective, officials think.

        “Weed and Seed has a lot of aspects to it,” Officer Triggs said. “And it'll work. It'll just take time. I hate to lose.”

        He gets a daily hug from crossing guard Alice Bryant.

        From her post at the popular hangout corner of Woodburn and Montgomery avenues, Ms. Bryant waits for change. She has lived here 40 years. The kids she watches cross the busy intersection call her Grandma.

        “There's a lot of people here who don't bother anybody,” she said. “But they do need to do something about the hanging out and the drugs. The good people don't need that.”


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