WARREN Crime drives residents from once-quiet area area

Records show that police responded to the city's northwest side 606 times in May and June.
WARREN -- Conditions in part of the city's northwest side are heading south.
Residents of one neighborhood that once was quiet say it's no longer the place they want to call home.
JoAnna Butler of Hall Street Northwest said her grandchildren's bikes have been stolen, and many of her neighbors' homes have been burglarized.
"You can't have anything outside because someone will take it," Butler said. "It's really gotten bad. I know people who have had their dogs stolen."
Some say they are looking to move out of the area, nestled east of the Mahoning River and west of Griswold Street extension.
"Yes, we are having a problem in that area, and it is something we are going to have to deal with quickly and harshly," Police Chief John Mandopoulos said. "We have the biggest street gang -- the police department. And my officers are going to be out there to make sure residents can once again feel safe."
Police department records show that in May and June police responded to the area 606 times. The chief said he believes the recent rash of calls has to do with a feud between two rival groups.
"Once Westlawn closed, people that lived there have relocated to this area, and there seems to be a turf battle going on," he said. Westlawn was a low- to moderate-income housing development that closed about two years ago.
Security: The chief noted that other government-assisted housing units in the city have strict security and have been able to stop a lot of illegal activity from happening in the projects.
"The drug sales that used to take place in the housing units is now moving elsewhere," Mandopoulos said.
Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd, whose ward includes part of the northwest section, said problems in the area include loitering, drug trade, prostitution, loud music, speeding, vacant homes, property maintenance code violations, gunfire, gang graffiti and other episodes of criminal damaging.
More than 30 homes and rental properties in the 2nd Ward stand vacant, a prime target for vandals and burglars, the councilman said.
The neighborhood known as Warren Heights has become a hotbed for criminal activity.
Crystal Buckley, 26, is property manager at Warren Heights Apartments, 504 Douglas St. N.W.
She doesn't live on the property, but says she's close with tenants, who page her when there's an emergency.
"I'm here to reassure my residents who are worried for their lives," she said.
Buckley said that in the 21/2 years she's worked on the property, there have been three shootings.
No one was seriously injured, and Buckley said it's usually not her residents who make trouble but rather people who live in the surrounding area and bring criminal activity into the complex.
"Some residents want to move out of there because it's so dangerous," Novak said. "It's spilling out into the neighborhoods."
The complex has 188 units in several buildings, serving mostly families. Buckley said at least 400 children live there.
It's not affiliated with the Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority but does receive some federal money.
Buckley said the complex has a strict application and screening process.
In past years, a few police maintained residences at the complex, from where they also ran a police substation.
Budget restraints: Having a resident officer onsite site helped to deter crime, Novak said, but the practice was abandoned when citywide layoffs were issued because of budget cuts.
Voters passed a 0.5 percent income tax increase in May, paving the way for layoffs to be rescinded.
A security guard works nights at the apartments, but Buckley said she hopes officers will move in when the department is back to full strength.
The sound of gunfire has become commonplace in the north end, Novak said, noting he's heard shots fired while in the neighborhood.
Lawmakers, police officers, a local attorney and others organized Safe Streets Now a few years ago, before the budget cuts. The group canvassed neighborhoods and took down license plate numbers of suspected criminals that led to arrests. It was also successful in closing down a convenience store that Novak said was a nuisance.
Safe Streets Now is reorganizing and will meet at 7 p.m. July 12 at Packard Park Shelter House. Residents interested in participating are asked to attend.

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