Drug dealing and the resulting gunfire around the playground of the Latrobe Homes development made residents angry two years ago, angry enough to push the city to declare the area a Drug-Free Zone.
"It was frightening with so many children living here," said Devon Wilford, who was active in the campaign.
Authorities decided there wasn't enough drug activity to justify setting up that security program. Despite the rejection, the Latrobe group kept up its campaign to draw the community into the fight against crime.
Yesterday, Latrobe Homes became the first city Housing Authority development to establish a Neighborhood Watch program. Community members marched around the block to unveil three signs advertising the project and signed up dozens of volunteer "Block Watchers."
"With the togetherness of the people and support from the city and lots of prayers, we can put Latrobe on the map and restore its self-sufficiency and dignity," declared Ms. Wilford, who is vice president of Latrobe's Resident Council and president of Parents Against Drugs.
"The guns and the shooting, that's been the main thing we're concerned about," she said. The Neighborhood Watch program, which commits residents to report suspicious activity to authorities, will help to draw the community into taking responsibility for its safety, said Ms. Wilford, who has lived 23 years in the 700-home development on East Madison Street.
The day included an anti-crime poster contest for schoolchildren, refreshments, speeches and presentation of mayoral citations to residents for crime-fighting efforts.
"With this Awareness Day, we will send out a strong message to the politicians, our kids, our neighbors, the police, to everyone: We want to live in healthy, drug-free communities," said Martha Benton, who received a citation for her work with Parents Against Drugs.
The parents group sparked the plans to establish the Neighborhood Watch program. When Latrobe Homes achieves its goal of resident management, the Neighborhood Watch program can work even more closely with its own security force, Ms. Wilford said.
Latrobe is the first housing project in Maryland to begin the process of having residents manage their development. In September, the Latrobe Resident Management Council expects to begin sharing responsibility with the Housing Authority on managing the project, and by next spring the council hopes to take over all management functions, said coordinator Shirley Wise.
"This is another important step for the people here who care about their community," she said.