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YOUNGSTOWN POLICE Block watches place no focus on chief's race



Published: Fri, April 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Block watch people talk about police presence and quality-of-life crimes, not the race of the new chief.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Benjamin Davidson wants more police patrols in his North Side neighborhood.

Davidson also wants the police, under new Chief Robert Bush Jr., to stay focused on loud music from cars and homes that rattle the neighborhood. The department has done a "pretty fine job" overall in recent years, he said, and he hopes that continues.

Neither Davidson, who heads the Know Your Neighbor Block Watch, nor his group's members care much whether the police chief is a white, black or Hispanic male or female, either.

"What they basically want is a good police chief," he said.

Davidson could be speaking for many city residents who deal with the police more than most: neighborhood block watch leaders.

Appointment fallout

Fallout was swift a week ago when Mayor George M. McKelvey appointed Bush, the former law director, the city's first black chief. Bush replaced Richard Lewis, who retired.

Some black leaders in the city had harsh words for the mayor's selection. They called the decision one made only to appease the black community. They said another black, police Capt. Jimmy Hughes, was more qualified than Bush. McKelvey said he picked Bush because they share similar policing philosophies and work well together.

But ask block watch people about the incoming chief, and mostly you hear about wanting more police presence and a continued crackdown on the annoying, so-called quality-of-life crimes such as loud noise.

And almost to a person -- black or white -- they say the chief's color doesn't much matter.

Instead, people like John Kish of the S.I.D. Block Watch talk adamantly about more patrols, which he said would improve communication between officers and residents.

People expect a lot from police, and officers are good about coming to his South Side crime watch meetings and working with members, Kish said. Some officers, however, don't get to know enough neighborhood people and aren't as accommodating as residents would like, he said. Kish hopes Bush can instill more of that attitude into officers.

Lansingville Block Watch

Jason Buday of the Lansingville Block Watch wants Bush to work more closely with the Mahoning County sheriff's department, from increasing patrols to expanding drug investigations. Officers on foot in his South Side neighborhood, especially in warm weather months, would make a big difference, too, he said.

"That would send a real powerful message," Buday said.

He credited Lewis' officers with maintaining a significant presence in his neighborhood in recent years.

"He cared enough about the community to be out there," Buday said.

Debra Housel of the Gibson Heights Block Watch just wants the incessant pounding of bass from car radios and home stereos to stop.

"Since it's been nice [outside], it's been really irritating," she said.

Response time has been good in recent years, but Housel wants Bush to add patrols to chase kids off her South Side street corners and short-circuit reckless joy riders.

Weed and Seed commitment

"I hope Bob Bush will make a big difference," she said.

Mariae Brooks of the Judson Block Watch hopes Bush keeps the department's commitment to the South Side Weed and Seed crime prevention area and block watches.

Besides basic policing, most people don't care about the race of who's at the top, said the Rev. Edmond Southerland of the Somebody Watching You Block Watch on the North Side.

Luis Arroyo of the Southern Boulevard Block Watch said appointing a minority is appropriate, considering the city's make-up. The last U.S. Census says Youngstown is 51 percent white, 44 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic or Latino.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

Arroyo is most adamant, however, about more police patrols -- not race. Better presence is vital to his Uptown South Side neighborhood.

Streets need to be safe so people are willing to come out of their homes and into the neighborhood, he said. Cracking down on quality-of-life crimes doesn't do much good if people won't leave their homes, Arroyo said.

East Side group

Annie Hall, the citywide block watch coordinator and leader of an East Side crime prevention group, said people need to give Bush a chance before judging whether he is the one for the job.

"I think he'll do the right thing," she said.

Bush said Thursday that he'll try to meet all the demands.

More police officers beyond the 215 in uniform now is highly unlikely, given the city's budget woes, Bush said.

Nonetheless, there are moves such as changing how officers are deployed that can achieve goals that residents are setting.

For example, Bush said he is looking at creating a traffic unit dedicated to taking reports at car accident scenes. That would free up beat cars to keep patrolling streets.

When beat cars are called to an accident, they sometimes can be tied up for an hour, Bush said.

"Obviously, they can't be seen one block over if they're taking a report," he said.

Bush promised he will keep emphasizing to officers that they must be committed to neighborhoods, be it block watch meetings or boom boxes.

"It's the attitude you continue to stress to the officers," he said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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