YOUNGSTOWN People unite to make neighborhood safe

Block watch groups from the city's 7th Ward organized this year's event.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Instead of signaling crime, the lights and sirens Tuesday on the South Side signaled the 19th year for National Night Out.
The event, which featured a parade and picnic here, is designed to heighten awareness of drug- and crime-prevention programs.
The city's event was sponsored and organized by the block watch organizations of the 7th Ward.
John R. Swierz, Youngstown council president, said the combination of National Night Out and the block watch organizations makes perfect sense, because the groups work toward the same goals.
"The block watches are becoming popular for two reasons," he said. "First, they are a natural coming together of people who are facing crime and other issues affecting their neighborhood. Second, it lets people in the city become resocialized with their neighborhood and the people in it.
"A lot of people today tend to stick to their own," he continued. "And this is a way for them to meet their neighbors and know who they are."
The event was attended not only by block watch participants, but also business owners, area police officers and neighborhood residents.
"I came here after I helped them block off the street and the police told me to come down here," said Janae Thompkins, 13, of Dewey Avenue.
Her friends and Dewey Avenue neighbors, 13-year-old Baquala Shelton and Nikki Mattison, 15, said they have attended National Night Out events in the past, but came down this year "to see what everybody was up to," Shelton said.
"They have this every year, and it's pretty nice," Mattison said.
What went on
As adults lined up for hamburgers, hot dogs and more, children ran off to play on the basketball court or the swings.
Block watch members, wearing T-shirts with their group's name emblazoned across the front, wandered through the crowds.
Politicians and business leaders introduced themselves, while police officers from area departments ate and talked with residents.
McGruff the Crime Dog made an appearance, handing out collectible cards to small children like 2-year-old Tyrel "T.J." Thompkins, who was tagging along with the older girls from his neighborhood.
Officers from various departments participated, including the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department and the Youngstown, Boardman and Hubbard Township police.
"They wanted everyone to come out here tonight," said Hubbard Township officer Robin Logan, who stood watching the events with partner, officer Ron Fusco. "It's a good thing to get the cops out, too."
Slaving over hot coals, cooking burgers to perfection for the masses was Gene Lederman Jr. of Miller Street, a member of the Gibson Street Block Watch.
"This is 10 years we've been doing this," he said.
A lifelong city resident, Lederman said he has seen the city get worse over the years as crime increased, but he said he thinks events like National Night Out and organizations like block watch can help.
"I like it. You really feel like you can make a difference," he said. "When we cooperate with the police department, we can change things. And nights like this show everyone there really are some good people in Youngstown."

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