The Essence Of CrimeSeen

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By Doug Page, Staff Writer Updated 11:37 PM Friday, July 16, 2010

DAYTON — Police are depending more on citizen groups to watch for crime in their neighborhoods while facing the prospect of fewer police on streets.

“It takes being involved,” said Lodia Furnas, president of the Burkhardt-Springfield Neighborhood Association. “It’s going to take the citizens to stand up, speak out and work with the officers we have to protect our city.”

Furnas, who has lived in her tidy Huffman Avenue home for 48 years, is something of a legend beyond the confines of the 2nd District.

“She’s what we want from our citizens,” said Dayton police Lt. Mark Varvel, 1st District commander. “She goes out and looks into things.”

At a time when the most violent of crimes — rape, murder, felonious assault, armed robbery — are either decreasing or holding steady, and property crimes — burglary, theft, vandalism — are generally increasing, the Police Department is anticipating dropping from 382 officers to fewer than 350 during the next 12 to 18 months, according to Chief Richard Biehl.

District commanders are looking to citizen groups for help.

“They are our eyes and ears, more so in a time when we are hurting for manpower,” said Lt. Robert Chabali, 3rd District commander. And many of the groups are stepping forward.

“Do we really have a choice?” Barry Hall, president of the Greater Old North Dayton Business Association, asked. “If you don’t stop the spiral, the city will be dead.”

“Without an engaged public, the community won’t get safer,” Police Chief Richard Biehl said.

It’s tough to be engaged when times are tough, the neighborhood is in transition and crime is a growing problem.

“I’ve spent my life fixing up an old house,” said Carol Spicer, who has lived on Jersey Street in the Burhkardt neighborhood for 26 years. “Now it feels like it isn’t worth a dollar.”

Spicer is not alone. She and others have worked through the Burkhardt-Springfield Neighborhood Association to help police clean up their 2nd District neighborhood.

In response to the association, 2nd District commander Lt. Chris Williams started running bike patrols through the area.

“The bike patrol has helped tremendously,” said Lodia Furnas, association president. “It’s a big asset. People can walk out of their houses” without being accosted by drug dealers.

Furnas, a longtime resident of Huffman Avenue, has been a city volunteer for almost three decades. Over the past decade, she has been driving the streets in her red van, looking for prostitutes, drug dealers and others breaking the law. When she finds them, she calls police.

While there has been some push back from the dealers, Furnas — the daughter of a Tennessee high sheriff — said none of it fazes her.

“They say, ‘Do you know who you’re messing with?’ I turn it around tell them, ‘Do you know who you’re messing with’,” she said.

“Once they see Lodia’s van parked on the street, they’re like cockroaches, they run into the woodwork,” said Linda Roberds, an association member who was born in the neighborhood, moved away and returned several years ago to Burkhardt Street.

The role of business

Lt. Larry Faulkner is the commander of the Central Business District that now stretches from downtown to the University of Dayton area. He describes the police relationship with area businesses simply as, “Our mutual success depends on helping each other. We work hand-in-hand on issues affecting them.”

Barry Hall started his auto repair business 30 years ago on Leo Avenue in the 1st District. Twice he has been president of the Greater Old North Dayton Business Association. As a small businessman, he worries about the effects of crime on his neighborhood.

“If people are afraid to live, work or do business in the area, why should you?” he explained. Which has given rise to one of GONDBA’s initiatives: a community awareness website that tracks repeat offenders from the neighborhood through the court system, including their criminal history and the judge’s sentence.

“We’re not trying to affect the verdict,” he said. “We hope to affect the sentencing of career criminals.”

GONDBA also funds a computerized phone tree where officers can alert area businesses of on-going crimes. “If police are looking for a vehicle from a robbery, they can have 200 pairs of eyes looking out the window for them,” Hall said.

South of Fifth Street in the 2nd District, Lt. Williams has inaugurated a program where local businesses offer discounts for items such as alarm systems and door locks.

Across the Stillwater River in the 5th District, the partnership of Good Samaritan Hospital and the city is reclaiming the neighborhood around the hospital with the help of several neighborhood association. Good Sam has put $10 million into the effort, including paying for two patrol officers dedicate to the area. Good Sam officials credit 5th District Commander Lt. Mike Wilhelm’s support for their success.

The role of cops

To Lt. Robert Chabali, 3rd District commander, one important role is to listen.

“We have a number of meetings weekly with neighborhood associations that officers. It’s a chance to exchange information on what we’re doing and what they’ve seen and heard,” he said.

Lt. Williams in the 2nd District and Lt. Mark Varvel of the 1st District send out weekly e-mails to concerned citizens about what is happening in the neighborhoods. The Central Business District’s Lt. Faulkner takes pride in not missing a meeting of any group.

Such meetings, Varvel said, “gives citizens a voice in how municipal agencies respond to their complaints. Some of the groups do a better job of holding city agencies accountable, as they should.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2290 or</p>