Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Editorial: Our city is a safer place thanks to neighbors stepping out and speaking up

Oct. 7, 2017 at 10:41 p.m.

It seemed a bit strange at first, this notion of honoring a group of heroes without identifying them.

They certainly deserved to be held up for praise. These fine Longview neighbors provided police with information that helped get a sizable haul of illegal drugs off our streets and led to the arrests of four people who had been peddling the poison.

But when the Mobberly Place neighborhood's crime watch group came together last week to honor the tipsters for the important part they play in making our city a safer place, we all — neighbors, police, the News-Journal — agreed to keep their names out of it.

Yes, it might seem strange. But it makes perfect sense.

As Longview worked to ratchet up its fight against increasing drug crime and violence in recent years, police found a key weapon was missing from the arsenal: Trusting relationships with residents in many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. That lack of trust kept witnesses from stepping forward to provide information police needed to solve crimes.

For the past few years, then, the department has been working to rectify that situation. It has done so with efforts ranging from bicycle patrols that make officers more accessible to code sweeps that have made clear residents, police and city officials are partners.

The anonymous honors last week also were a part of that — and evidence that progress is being made.

"It is important our witnesses feel like they have some sense of security whenever they pass information on to us," Sgt. Shane McCarter told News-Journal reporter Becky Bell. "Their name and location is not going to be out there for those who were arrested, because when that happens, why would you want to come talk to us?"

While that means the News-Journal might not get to tell every neighborhood hero story, there is no doubt the heroes are out there. We see it in arrests being made more quickly in recent high-profile cases than had been the norm in recent years, for example. We see it in increased collaborative efforts among police and other city departments to clean up long-ignored neighborhood problems. We see it every year at this time, when hundreds of Longview residents get together for Neighborhood Night Out parties.

It reminds us of what we heard from residents two years ago, as our city's homicide rate peaked at a record and we were looking for answers. As part of that, the News-Journal opened its pages to readers' ideas for solutions. This was one:

"Citizens should step up, not just for symbolic rallies and marches, but each and every day. Step out of their houses in groups and be a witness to their neighborhood. Watch out for each other and your neighborhoods, block by block by block. Don't wait for 'someone else' to fix the problem. Each and every one of us can start to take steps, starting with going out our front doors."

That was about the same time Mobberly Place jump-started its neighborhood watch effort, which might have led to the drug bust and arrests earlier this year. Other neighborhood groups are having similar impacts.

Though our city still faces troubling rates of crime and violence, we hope all are aware of the progress that has been made. Yes, we still have much to do. But Longview is moving on the right track.



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