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Program aims to curb crime through building relationships

By Richard Yeakley
June 21, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Milton Morrison was at home in California when he got the call this past month telling him one man had been killed and others wounded in a grisly shooting in the parking lot of an apartment complex he owns in Longview.

"The apartment manager called me and also one of the tenants," Morrison recalled. "They were saying everything was chaotic, so crazy and what was going on."

One man died in the robbery-shooting that night. Two others were wounded. Five people have been jailed in connection with the incident - two on capital murder charges.

The murder, mayhem and ensuing publicity have, in Morrison's mind, put Signal Hill Apartments and the people who live there in a bad light - unjustly.

"I want people to know, the people who live there are decent, hardworking folks," Morrison said. "Some of them have lived there 16 years. Everybody seems to forget that crime came to them. They didn't commit that crime. They're as concerned as everybody else about crime."

Since December, he said, one apartment has been burglarized, a car stolen, and there have been several incidents of cars being broken into. He said residents of the apartments have reported - on many occasions - seeing two cars pull up, make an exchange and leave from the parking lot.

"The apartments have two parking lots, the farthest one near the wooded area. There's not a lot of through-traffic. People have used it as a quiet location to do illicit acts to get away with what they're trying to get away with," Morrison said.

Signal Hill is in a secluded area of southwest Longview, named because of an old radio tower at the top of the hill.

"People call the police," he said, "but by the time they get there, the people are gone. We appreciate the effort the police department is putting out, but we are still running into problems. I know they can't be there 24 hours a day but whatever effort we can work with them in accomplishing more police presence would be welcome."

The way to achieve that, city officials said, is to establish a relationship with the Police Area Representative, or PAR officer.

Signal Hill is located in what Longview Police Department has designated as Beat 50, Area 54.

Its PAR officer is Jeff Hall.

"Our door is always open," Hall said. "We work together to try to reduce the number of calls in the area."

The city has six PAR officers - one for each designated beat. Their unit goal is to reduce crime and the fear of crime through problem-solving tactics; to encourage police-community partnerships and to develop crime prevention strategies.

To achieve their goal, officers are assigned to act as a liaison for residents and the police department; to educate the public in crime prevention; organize crime watch groups, community programs and crime prevention tactics; and act as a problem solver for community concerns.

It's all about community policing, said Mayor Jay Dean - old-fashioned neighborhood policing.

Dean said when he took office in 2006, he asked the former police chief for a five-year plan to increase patrols, reduce serious crimes and address traffic issues in the city.

During those five years, from 2006 to 2011, crime in Longview has decreased. The number of dispatch calls in 2011 were 19 percent fewer than in 2006, according to data from the department.

During the same time period, the city beefed up the PAR program, which had been established in 1994 but was not fully staffed prior to 2006.

"We want those (PAR) officers to become part of the district so their neighbors have confidence in being able to go to those officers, to get out in front of bad situations," Dean said.

That is exactly what Milton Morrison said he wants.

"I realize there is a large task that the police department has; a lot of area to cover and a lot for them to handle," he said. "But we would love to see more police presence and more patrols coming through. I would like, and I'm sure the tenants would like, to feel safe when they go to work and come home. They want to know everything will be as they left it and they won't have to worry about cars being tampered with or bullets flying around. People want to feel safe. That's the biggest concern."

Dean said finding a solution in the southwest Longview neighborhood or anywhere in the city begins with residents communicating with the police department.

"The police are there to protect you, but you have to communicate with them and tell them what's going on," he said. "We want to build a relationship of trust."



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