Neighbors urge police and city officials to help them ward off crime

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2013 

Neighbors who live around Lexington’s downtown Douglass and Duncan parks are taking action after a recent spate of shootings and other crimes.

Some are visiting the parks more with their families, hoping that their presence will ward off criminal activity. They’ve also been successful in calling on police to step up patrols. And last week, some took their concerns to Mayor Jim Gray.

Resident Stephen Over-street went to the Urban County Council meeting on Thursday night to encourage Gray and council members to support programs that could deter the use and sale of drugs in the Georgetown Street area near Douglass Park.

“It’s getting harder and harder to take our children there and have a real park experience,” Overstreet said of Douglass Park. In an effort to make things better, he had initiated positive activities in the park most every Saturday and has seen that it “cut down on the violence.”

Diane Marshall, president of the Georgetown Street Neighborhood Association, told the council: “We have elderly people that live in the area and they are afraid to come out on their porch. I’m hoping that the council will take interest in this.”

A Herald-Leader analysis shows that since 2012, violent crimes — including assault, murder and wanton endangerment — have occurred all over Lexington, and serious crimes haven’t been unusually concentrated around the two parks.

Both neighborhoods have seen a rebirth, said council member Chris Ford. Many new homes have been built off Georgetown Road and dozens of homes near Duncan Park have been — or are being — renovated.

It is isolated incidents in recent weeks, in part, that led Marshall to ask at Thursday night’s council meeting for a meeting in the near future with Gray, Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, Chief Ronnie Bastin, police commanders and key council members.

Marshall said she was encouraged last week after meeting with Ford, councilwoman Shevawn Akers and Lexington police Commander Doug Pape.

“There’s been so much violence …,” Marshall said. “We felt like we had been neglected by the city. We’ve been trying to come together as a neighborhood. We just need support and I think we are going to get that support.”

Gray told Marshall on Thursday that city officials would hold the meeting she requested. He also said he had been talking about the issues with others, including Ford and Akers.

“We just have to press hard when issues like this emerge,” Gray said.

Growing concerns

Neighbors in Lexington’s east and west ends have raised concerns about recent shootings. Residents have been vocal about the problems and have reached out to police and city officials. In recent weeks in Duncan Park, Lexington police have had “more calls for service” and requests from citizens and neighborhood associations, spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said. Police are responding with increased patrols in cruisers, on foot and horseback.

“We’ve seen mounted police up there and regular patrols,” said Travis Robinson, the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association president. “It’s definitely improved” since the shooting July 21, he said.

In Douglass Park, police are responding to increased calls with more patrols on foot and in cruisers, Roberts said.

Despite improvements in the neighborhoods, the shootings this summer have caused alarm.

On Aug. 4, a man was shot in the back near Georgetown Street and Lindberg Drive. The shooting was reported at 9:30 p.m. across the street from Douglass Park, shortly after the Dirt Bowl basketball tournament. At about the same time, a vigil was being held for a man who died in a vehicle crash early Sunday on Price Road.

Witnesses described the shooters only as two men wearing white T-shirts and dark shorts.

Georgetown Street Neighborhood Association Vice President Henry Kenion said there have been other shootings in downtown’s west end. He mentioned drive-by shootings on streets including Roosevelt Boulevard, where two people were shot as they sat on their front porch.

On Thursday night, the area around Georgetown Street and Douglass Park was quiet, except for many young adults and families participating in organized activities on the athletic fields and courts.

Few people were outside the homes with neatly manicured lawns that stretch along Georgetown Street.

It is an area in Lexington that is relatively new. A gleaming subdivision with curving streets and cul-de-sacs has replaced the 350-odd apartment units that made up Charlotte Court, a high-density, high-crime housing project that was razed in 1999.

On the east end of downtown, neighbors around Duncan Park are addressing similar problems.

On July 21, a warm Sunday afternoon, a man was shot in the leg at Duncan Park. Police were looking for two men who drove away in a gray car. Witnesses said the car took off at a high speed down Johnson Avenue, followed by someone on foot who was shooting a gun. At least three cars were hit by bullets.

Police recovered evidence in Duncan Park, which is between North Limestone and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Fifth Street.

Robinson, president of the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association, said in an interview Thursday that neighbors are focused on having more activities in Duncan Park.

Robinson, a Johnson Avenue resident, said the park had become a gathering spot for teenagers and young adults who shoot dice and gamble. Johnson Avenue, a stone’s throw away from the campus of Lexington Traditional Magnet School and Duncan Park, sits on a single block between East Fourth and East Fifth streets downtown. It was once an area that was rife with prostitution and drugs. In the past decade, many homeowners have gutted the homes, dating from 1903 to 1911, to give them new life.

Rather than hiding inside, residents in the MLKNA have tried to be more present in the parks by holding picnics and other events for the neighborhood. They are trying to take their children to the park more because those efforts appear to be cutting down on crime, Robinson said.

Finding solutions

Kenion said Lexington police have been “slow” in their response to the neighborhood. He also said that in years past, officers were more proactive in the Georgetown Street area, walking door to door and helping people before crime occurred. Many of those officers have retired, he said, and newer officers only seem to arrive in their cruiser after a crime has occurred.

“Younger officers are not educated on our neighborhood,” he said.

However, in response, police spokeswoman Roberts said police “ have arrived at numerous situations in seconds, because they were already doing proactive patrols one or two streets over. I can’t speak to what one citizen has experienced or believes, I can only speak to what we are doing, which is implementing a multifaceted, proactive approach .”

Kenion asked council members to support programs aimed at fourth graders, who he said are at an age where they could be dissuaded from criminal activities. He encouraged council members to come to the Georgetown Street area and talk to neighbors.

Second District council member Akers and First District council member Ford both represent neighborhoods around Georgetown Street.

Akers said at the council meeting she thought increased police patrols and more activities for youth would make a difference.

Ford said many neighbors are involved in activities at Douglass Park and he had personal experience at the park as a youth football coach and the father of two sons who played football there. Ford also represents neighborhoods around Duncan Park.

“I hope that these parks can continue to be a positive contributing presence in the neighborhoods. There is a rebirth in residential areas around these parks,” he said. “We have a good start and a recipe for positive change.”

Ford said there were ways to help some of the people involved in criminal activity; he thought more jobs was one possible answer.

He said a new city task force was working on improving all parks across Lexington.

Councilman-at-large Steve Kay said he had lived in the area around Duncan Park for about 30 years. He said neighbors have made various efforts to make improvements and see that it gets positive use.

“This recent spate of incidents really just raises the need for more programming,” he said. “We need to keep working on it. It’s gotten better. There’s been a lot of improvements.”

“I regret that we’ve had this uprising in the specific incidents,” Kay said. “But I think it offers an opportunity for us to focus more on our parks, our public spaces, and how we want to use them and how we make them an asset instead of allowing them to potentially become a liability.”

Staff writer Linda J. Johnson contributed to this story. Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears.

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