Dixon, Bealefeld hit the streets, show that little things matter


April 10, 2009|By Peter Hermann

The mayor kept a brisk pace, but she didn't miss the eyesore - a mattress abandoned in an alley off Fayette Street.

"Hey, Steve, did you get it?" Sheila Dixon said to the man behind her, turning her head but not breaking her stride.

Steve smiled and wrote it down, and I have no doubt that someone called someone in public works and the mattress will soon be gone, if it's not already. Same with the brick flower container at the vacant house on Curley Street that had become a receptacle for broken beer bottles and used drug needles.

Quick fixes are great, and needed, and they are the result of getting the mayor and the police commissioner and their entourages of note-taking subordinates to go on neighborhood walks such as this one in Patterson Park on Wednesday evening, designed to show community solidarity in the face of corner drug dealers and litterers.

That Dixon and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III go out frequently is a testament to their dedication to making this city more livable and safe. But the mayor and chief can't be at every wayward mattress nor can they spot every container filled with the detritus of this city's drug culture.

What these two leaders can do is instill in their workers, the officials residents talk to for most of their problems, that the little things do matter. Two weeks from now, when someone calls 311 to report a sidewalk crack or a dead tree, the operator, it is hoped, will remember that the mayor cared about the mattress so maybe this person calling about this easy-to-dismiss issue really is important.

As with most crime walks, we saw no crime. The cops want to engage, and whether it is the patrol officer or the police commissioner, whether it is a stable neighborhood such as Patterson Park or one where drug dealers are as common as stop signs, the message is the same.

"All I need you to do is talk," Bealefeld told Jacquelyn Fisher, who poked her head out of the Horsefeathers bar on Streeper Street, curious about the flood of people, dogs and cops coming up the sidewalk.

Fisher told the commissioner that she used to be a block watch captain, that she used to organize a talent show to get kids off the street. Bealefeld shot back, "Why all this stuff, 'used to?' " Just talk to us, the police commissioner pleaded.

It is the little things that matter. The trash, the graffiti, the grime invite crime to a neighborhood as much as an open door invites a burglar. And yes, the commissioner spotted one of those as well. In a back alley off Fayette, at a house being renovated, scaffolding led up to a second floor and a wide-open door.

"This is where we get smashed and your neighborhood gets smashed," Bealefeld told Tyrel Mosness, the security chair of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association. "They'll leave a saw or they'll leave a miter box or some drill. Someone will climb up there and they'll steal that ... and this neighborhood will get hit with a property crime. And when somebody dials that up on your map, that's scored against the neighborhood as a burglary. It diminishes your return."

Mosness told Bealefeld that the house next door "was just broken into earlier this week" and that another house on the same street had been mostly destroyed by fire, yet repeated calls to the city have gone nowhere. Bealefeld glanced at a dim streetlight. "Does that get much brighter?" he asked.

The commissioner grabbed the district commander and listed the issues that need fixing. The man at the mayor's side named Steve continued to write. These problems will get fixed. But the key to whether these walks are anything more than symbolic gestures is whether similar problems get fixed when the mayor and police commissioner aren't the ones calling in the complaints.

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