GAINing on crime: Greenwood neighbors unite to fight crime on Aurora

Hypodermic needles are littered on sidewalks, used condoms lie on lawns and mid-day drug transactions are witnessed by neighbors.

This isn't a movie, and it isn't the streets of another city. It is Greenwood, five miles north of downtown and just off Aurora Avenue North.

In an attempt to reclaim a neighborhood they believe they have lost, four residents founded a grass-roots crime-prevention organization called Greenwood Aurora Involved Neighbors (GAIN). The new organization will strive to bring the areas between North 75th and 95th streets together at its first meeting next Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Greenwood Elementary School, 144 N.W. 80th St., in the cafeteria, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Organizing residents

Modeled after the block-watch group Fremont and Wallingford Neighbors (FAWN), GAIN co-founder Tina Mollis said organizations such as the Greenwood Library, FAWN and the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association "that have been around a long time, have been welcoming our group."

"We are quite pleased the neighborhood residents have organized," said Faye Garneau, executive director of the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, which has been waging a 19-year battle against crime on the busy business avenue. "It is quite a lonesome battle to fight on your own."

"The main focus of our organization," she explained, "is for safety on the street for business to operate, but it is also for our neighboring residents and the employees."

Spurred to action

After discussing a perceived escalation in neighborhood crime last spring, the four GAIN founders - Monica Oxford, Mollis, Cindy Potter and Justin Thuemler - decided it was time to pull the community together and utilize block-watch programs for something other than yearly parties and emergency-preparedness meetings.

After a failed attempt to host a community-wide block party, the project fell on the back burner of the residents' plans, until a close friend and neighborhood block-watch captain was beaten after witnessing a drug deal in his area late last summer.

"That spurred things on rather quickly," Mollis said.

Since then, the organization has made substantial progress. It has made its presence known within the community by doubling the number of block-watch captains to 24, and by soliciting local business merchants to become a part of the current criminal trespass program already implemented at all 26 Aurora motels from the Aurora Bridge to North 145th Street.

The trespass program has helped ban delinquent guests and potentially dangerous, unregistered visitors from all establishments along the busy corridor.

Christian Harnecker, manager of the once criminally afflicted Sun Hill Motel, at North 85th Street and Aurora, said that he has seen dramatic changes on his property through the criminal trespass program. "I thank [the police] for enforcing and creating the trespass program because it works," he said.

However, people still come to his motel trying to engage in illegal acts, he said. The motel will have unregistered guests who will try to sell drugs or bring a prostitute, he explained, but with a watchful eye and the trespass program, he can ensure that they won't come back or move onto another establishment along the corridor.

Getting closer to homes

Residents hope that implementing the trespass program at businesses will further the cleanup of Aurora, making it a more community-friendly avenue for neighboring residents.

However, one of the most commonly raised questions for residents about the criminal trespass program is where the criminals go when they have been banned from Aurora establishments.

Many Greenwood residents speculate that they simply retreat into the residential areas to do their business, leading to the numerous home burglaries and drug and prostitution transactions many have witnessed over the last year.

Longtime Greenwood resident Janelle D. Storey said that she has seen crime come and go but notes that it has gotten worse lately.

"You see people that just don't belong.... I don't leave my doors unlocked anymore, even when I am out here," she said, looking at her newly manicured lawn. "I keep my key in my pocket and lock my door every time I go in or out."

Reclaiming their neighborhood

To ward off further crime, GAIN has printed 1,000 leaflets to advertise the upcoming community meeting, which will give residents a forum to discuss with invited city officials the criminal acts they have witnessed.

Additionally, the forum will give city officials the chance to speak to the solutions that might help alleviate the problem.

GAIN co-founder Thuemler said, "We want [the crime] to go away, but without more police and patrols, we are just going to move it into someone else's neighborhood. That is part of the reason we are doing this."

He added that community support is needed to petition the city for more resources to aid the police in patrolling the 32 square miles of the North Precinct.

"Without it, there isn't a deterrent," he said.

"We want johns to know we are watching and taking down their license [plate] numbers," Oxford said. "It is not OK to use our neighborhood as their public rest stop."

The GAIN members also are using the meeting to form task groups in the neighborhood, such as additional block-watch groups, neighborhood cleanups and block patrols - all in an effort to let the unwanted criminals know that they are working together to reclaim their neighborhood.

"No one wants to get into vigilante justice," Mollis said, "but we have had it, and we're not going to take it anymore."

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