Big turnout encourages Aurora-Greenwood crimefighters

"Awesome!," was the only word co-founders Monica Oxford and Cindy Potter of the newly formed community organization Greenwood Aurora Involved Neighbors (GAIN) could find to describe their feeling after the first meeting Wednesday evening, Oct. 27 at Greenwood Elementary.

Proving to be larger than most organizers had anticipated, the 420 residents and speakers in attendance quickly filled the cafeteria chairs, lined the walls and spilled into the adjacent gymnasium to discuss crime prevention options for their community with city council members, police officers and mayoral staff.

GAIN, which was formally founded late last August by a group of local residents, is focused on combating what residents believe to be an escalation in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, prostitution and theft, throughout the residential neighborhoods adjoining Aurora Avenue North.

Wednesday's meeting was designed to organize the community and present personal stories of victimization, frustration and desires for action in front of city council members including Richard McIver, David Della, Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, Peter Steinbrueck. Also in attendance were officers from the north precinct of the Seattle Police Department as well as Marc Lowe community relations director for the mayor's office.

One of the residents who spoke was Jen Clack, the block watch captain for GAIN on North 85th Street and Fremont Avenue North who left the audience with an account of a 12-year-old neighbor girl who had been approached by a stranger. "The man pulled up behind her," said Clack to the council members "and said, 'Do you want to make a quick 20 bucks?'"

"I joined GAIN in August," said Clack later "because of my children and the kids in my area. There has to be a change for them."

Many residents who spoke at the meeting called for the employment of additional officers in the next city budget. Nickels signed a bill that created 25 new officer positions in July of 2005. However, residents said many more are needed to bring Seattle's police force up to the average of cities comparable in population.

"I want them on bike and I want them on foot, walking the neighborhood because all evidence shows that if you have a visible police force, you have far less crime," said Licata who is chair of the council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Arts Committee. Licata also noted that he helped sponsor the bill that allowed the 25 new officer positions to be created, but told the audience that he is right back in line for additional funds "and this year I want 30 more officers," he concluded.

Residents also spoke out for better social recovery and treatment programs as well as better coordination and communication between residential communities, businesses and authorities in order to combat crime in a focused manner.

"We are facing an erosion in our city if we don't take care of the issues so many of you have so eloquently well addressed here tonight," Della said after thanking residents for their organization. Della echoed residents' ideas by focusing on combating the problem with additional officers on the street so the people "see and feel the full [police] force," getting what they need to organize and feel safe, as well as providing better social services for people in need of help.

"We need Aurora addressed as an entire problem not just this hot spot or that hot spot because if we do that," said Linda Clifton a resident and member of Safer Fremont "we just move the problem around."

"There is no question there is crime in this area," said Marco Lowe speaking on the mayor's behalf. Lowe, who is also a resident of the area, attested to the community's worries saying his own car had been stolen. "I will be signing up for block watch, tonight," Lowe said. "We need to walk the street ourselves. Attending one neighborhood meeting is one thing, but we need to get involved."

"It looks like we're going to be really busy," Potter said resolutely after the meeting had adjourned and the sign-up for the first neighborhood block walk (Wed. Nov. 9, on the south end of Greenwood Park at 7:30 p.m.) had been completed. I thought we'd get some time after the meeting to spend with our families Oxford and Potter said. "But we have to keep the momentum going. You can't drop the ball after a meeting like this," concluded Potter.

Chantelle Lusebrink is a Seattle freelance writer.

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