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Night Out Against Crime makes contact with Arlington neighborhoods
ARLINGTON — The National Night Out Against Crime not only spread out to several neighborhoods Aug. 5, but also received two nights of sequels. There were community crime prevention meetings at the Stillaguamish Senior Center Aug. 6 and Haller Middle School Aug. 7.
City Public Safety Director Bruce Stedman spent all three nights explaining the five-pronged response of the City Council, police, city staff, citizens and businesses that he believes will make Arlington a national role model. He also reiterated his goal of reducing crime by 30 percent in three years.
"The reason I think it can be a national model is because, as an outsider who came from Southern California, I've seen what this community can do, in how you responded to the Relay For Life and the Oso slide," said Stedman, who filmed seven neighborhoods and two crowds of community meeting attendees taking the pledge to go "All In" on Arlington's crime prevention efforts.
Some neighborhoods' efforts stalled at the starting gate. Christy Barnett of Heartland Homes acknowledged that their first Night Out was less than successful, drawing only a couple of attendees. Moreover, she doesn't expect that they'll start a Neighborhood Watch anytime soon.
"The lesson this year was to be better organized and get the information out to homeowners sooner," said Barnett, who pointed out that the neighborhood only decided two weeks before the event that it wanted to participate.
Barnett reported a number of petty crimes in her neighborhood, including vehicle prowls and a convertible car top that was slashed, so she appreciated that Stedman visited in May and July.
"They've shown that they're proactive," Barnett said. "I'm hoping to encourage neighbors to build trust among each other, so that we can look out for one another."
Robert Hernandez of Country Manor estimated that about 30 people showed up to their second Night Out this year, which was actually down from the previous year.
"Last year, we were the last neighborhood that the police, fire and city officials visited, but this year, we were the first, so some folks hadn't gotten off work yet," Hernandez said.
While Country Manor also lacks a Neighborhood Watch program, Hernandez is more optimistic about getting one underway soon, in no small part due to calls for community action such as Stedman's.
"I've been an Arlington resident for fifteen years, so I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly," Hernandez said. "The homeless are the number-one concern on our list. We have a green belt around our neighborhood where, for lack of a better word, they do business. I fully support implementing whatever tools the police can make available, and I agree that everyone should be responding."
In Crown Ridge, Maggie Ries uses the Internet and face-to-face interaction to keep her neighbors abreast of the latest crime prevention and public safety concerns.
"I've got about half the email addresses in the neighborhood, so I'm going door-to-door to get the rest for a mass-mailing list," Ries said. "We've already connected with homeowners in Gleneagle to share information with them as well."
Although Ries believes the neighborhood's problem with transients has largely subsided, she's still concerned with the activity of Arlington High School students.
"We've had issues with older kids smoking, drinking and bullying younger kids, which we've worked with the mayor, the principal and the school resource officer on," Ries said. "The school already cleaned up the property between its campus and our neighborhood, which fixed a lot of problems. With the city behind us for this new community response, I'm sure we'll be even more effective."
Gleneagle celebrated its third Night Out this year, which John Branthoover estimated drew nearly 80 attendees, up from last year.
"We're a little more fortunate than most neighborhoods, because our residents have conducted a volunteer night patrol for the past six years," Branthoover said. "It cause our crime rates to drop significantly, although we do get car break-ins still. We chalk that up to drug users, because they've actually left their drug equipment behind in the cars."
Although the neighborhood has had two drug houses and an empty home occupied by squatters, Branthoover credited police with resolving those problems.
"After the crackdown on homeless people and drug users in downtown Arlington, we did see an uptick of them in our wooded areas, but we called the cops, and they were on it right away," he said.
Branthoover was one of the citizen members of the committee of police, fire and city personnel whose discussions helped develop the five-pronged approach, so he supports its proactive aspect.
The Stilly Senior Center fostered more contentious discussions than Arlington's residential neighborhoods the night before, as Stedman was joined by Officer Ron Johnstone in answering their concerns.
"You can defend your property within reason," Johnstone said. "Property crimes don't get a ton of time, because our jails fill up, and we're saving space for people who commit violent crimes. It's not worth you getting hurt or going to prison over."
Johnstone did suggest a property crime deterrent that he uses at his home, which is environmental design.
"Keep bright lights on your house at night, and trim your bushes so your neighbors can see in your windows if someone's trying to break in," Johnstone said. "A yapping dog is great to have, and even if you don't, get a dog dish and set it out on your front porch. Put sticks in your windows so they won't slide open all the way, and please, close your garage doors."
Stedman conceded that burglary and theft calls to 911 are given lower priority, but urged citizens to call regardless, since police will eventually respond, and that report will help them track crime.
"Is Marysville 'All In' too?" one woman asked.
"A lot of different cities have contacted us about our approach, so we're hoping it will take hold," Stedman said.
When asked about the vacant Food Pavilion at Smokey Point, Stedman reported that city Community and Economic Development Director Paul Ellis had contacted the property's owners and received permission to trespass everyone off the premises.
Stedman thanked Fritz Fittinger of the Arlington Wal-Mart for supplying a computer to the Smokey Point police substation, but explained that it still needs volunteers to staff it during the week.
"Right now, police who patrol Smokey Point have to drive all the way to our offices on Olympic Avenue to file their reports," Stedman said. "With the new substation, they'll be able to file their reports in the same area."