Our neighborhood watch group is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. We started it back in October of 2014, with 9 members who were very enthusiastic. One of those members never came back again, another attended one more meeting and didn’t return. Another member moved away and left the neighborhood. A couple of other members attended in a spotty manner, coming once every couple of months.
Currently, my husband and I, along with a close neighbor are the only people who’ve attended every meeting.
I have arranged, over the past 10 months, for the Chief of Police, Mayor, a police Captain, and members of a city project that was organized with the specific purpose of creating and connecting neighborhood watch groups, to attend our meetings.
For our May meeting, a member of our group asked me if I was going to have someone speak and expressed that they have ongoing concerns about how many people are living in a half-double next door to them. I asked them if they thought the Bureau of Codes could answer those questions. They said they wanted someone to tell them what they can do. I arranged to have the Codes Officer attend our May meeting.
During that meeting, he explained a lot of things to us about the Bureau’s job. I and others shared with him that we didn’t understand how they decided who should be cited and who shouldn’t, because we see a lot of inconsistencies. There are some people who get cited for peeling paint on their house, but other people who have weeds 3 or 4 feet high in their yards who don’t get cited. I share with him that when we bought our last home, the garage had a big hole in the roof, that it had been condemned by the Bureau of Codes and as part of the purchase agreement for the house we had to have it torn down. I asked him why there are several garages in our neighborhood that are leaning, have big holes in the roofs, have boards missing from their walls, broken windows, etc., but they have been in this condition for the entire 9 years we’ve lived here. One of the homes with a leaning garage was sold in the last few years, yet the garage continues to deteriorate.
He told us that, unfortunately, though his staff drive through all the neighborhoods on a regular basis, they only pay attention to properties they’ve gotten calls about and don’t tend to scan a whole neighborhood, even though they are driving through it.
He informed our group that they conduct organized “sweeps” of all the neighborhoods in the city. Our neighborhood was due to be swept and he suggested that the best way our questions could be addressed would be if our group, or anyone in our neighborhood who wanted to, wanted to walk with them when they conducted the sweep. He suggested that we could ask him any questions we wanted to about what types of things are violations, what aren’t, what sorts of things they will overlook, etc.
The sweep was scheduled for June 3. 5 members of our group met with the entire staff of the Bureau of Codes at a local convenience store. Each staff person was assigned a couple blocks of our neighborhood and the Codes Officer suggested we walk with the person assigned to the block we live on. We all set out.
The Codes staff members took a lot of pictures, made a lot of notes. They pointed out things to us and allowed us to ask them questions. They asked us questions about various things. As we walked down the alley next to my house I asked him about my raised bed garden, if there were codes that applied to gardens. He said no, that there was nothing wrong with our garden, it was fine. As we walked past the business that’s directly across the street from my backyard I mentioned that several neighbors have said that they thought a dumpster that contained household garbage had to be covered. He noticed the roll-off at the business and immediately said, “That’s not allowed.” The roll-off container was rusted out all across the end, making it open and accessible to wildlife and there were white bags of household garbage visible in the container, as it is open and uncovered.
When we finished our walk with the Bureau of Codes, the three members of our neighborhood watch who were present, who all live on the same block, hung out together and shared our thoughts. We were surprised by the things that were completely ignored, surprised by the lack of info we were given regarding a dangerous tree that’s been losing its limbs the last couple of years. We were told that once a citation is issued, the property owner is usually given 30 days to make repairs or clean up.
We followed up with other members of our group who toured a different block of our neighborhood and they told us that only 2 houses on their block weren’t photographed or made note of.
Roughly a month passed and we noted that we saw no improvements in the neighborhood. The tree lost two huge limbs that landed on power lines. One member of the group called to follow up on the nuisance tree. I emailed the Codes Officer who attended our meeting, asking for an update. The other member was told they were still looking into the issue of the tree and I heard nothing in response.
While walking my dog, I was stopped by one of the neighbors who’d walked with us that day. We were talking about whether the group should continue or not, that only he had agreed to attend the next meeting and that I was going to cancel it. While we were talking, a vehicle stopped behind his house with the Codes seal on the door. He went over to it and it pulled up between the two of us.
The Codes Officer asked him some questions about the property next to his and about his RV. She asked questions about the property next to my house, as it’s been empty since January, the weeds aren’t being cut and the tree in question is in that backyard. She told me there is an ordinance that she believes covers that tree, she would look into it. We asked her if anything had come of the sweep they did, as we’ve not seen any changes in the neighborhood.
She said she was going to drive around, have a look and see if there were violations. She had not been the officer who’d walked our block with us.
That was last week. This past weekend, we noticed that the dumpster across from my backyard was removed, small trees had been cut down along buildings that belong to the owner of the business. When my husband went out to run an errand, the business owner came over and stopped my husband. He thanked him for having cut the grass in front of the apartment his daughter lives in, that’s attached to his business. (My husband cuts her grass often, as it gets 8-10 inches high before she mows it. He’s cleared her sidewalk of snow in the Winter and we’ve raked up the leaves around his business and moved them out to the street. We think that sort of thing is being neighborly, the right thing to do.)
Then he informed my husband that we are to stay off his property as he ‘knows’ I called Codes and reported him. My husband tried to explain about the sweep of the neighborhood, but he said he knew that wasn’t the truth, it was a lie. His daughter, who’d been very friendly with us, was standing out on her steps when my husband returned from running his errand, but she didn’t come around and speak to him, something that terribly disappointed both of us.
One must understand that my original intention in beginning a neighborhood watch was to establish a sense of community, for neighbors to get to know one another. I wanted to bring people together, do things together. I wanted it to feel like family.
We have a lot of crime in our neighborhood, drug deals, vandalism, graffiti, petty theft, cars broken into, etc. The folks that mentored us in our efforts emphasized that neighborhood watches weren’t meant to be ‘crime watches’, but a means for networking and bringing people together, to look out for one another.
They encouraged us to trim shrubs, keep our lawns mowed and weeds cut, to keep our porch lights on, to clean up the trash in the neighborhood, so that the criminal element in our area would see that the residents cared about their neighborhood, the idea being that if people care and take care of things, the ‘bad guys’ will move on to another area.
Walking with the Bureau of Codes, asking questions so we could better understand what their expectations are, Codes issuing citations for violations, has seriously jeopardized relationships in the neighborhood.
It’s quite clear that people in our neighborhood didn’t want to participate in a neighborhood watch, though they complain about crime, the condition of many of the homes, the lack of interest by our city leadership, etc. they are not interested in actually making any progress.
If having a neighborhood watch that is pro-active is going to cause the destruction of relationships, going to make its members neighborhood pariahs, going to make it difficult to be outside in our own yards, then what is the purpose of establishing a neighborhood watch? What is the purpose if it undermines the intent of having a group, if the results it gets are counterproductive?
Don’t misunderstand, I fully realize that the business owner across the alley from us and anyone else in the neighborhood who were cited by the Bureau of Codes were responsible for the condition of their properties. If they were cited, it was not because of the neighborhood watch, and we certainly didn’t report anyone or arrange for the sweep by Codes.
I’m having a hard time justifying the continuance of the neighborhood watch.