FAIRFIELD — It’s no secret that the Grande Circle neighborhood has its share of problems.
The public knows it from years of reading headlines about homicides and drug-related crimes taking place there.
The residents know it, as they live in the area full of apartments and condos and deal with many from out of the area who hang out there.
The police know it, having upped patrol there over the past few years, which according to residents, has helped greatly.
A new approach by the city is bringing those groups together to communicate. The plan is to use the partnership to build a long-term relationship to curb crime and increase safety overall in the east Fairfield neighborhood.
That was the scene recently as police set up neighborhood meetings in areas such as Grande and Villa circles and Dana Drive. Instead of being tucked away in a meeting room, the group met out in the street. The areas were lit up with floodlights and a microphone made the conversation audible for those in complexes.
It was announced that a neighborhood cleanup event has been scheduled for Jan. 12, 2013, for both the Villa and Grande areas. The event will be based out of Major Market and is set to kick off at 10 a.m. There will be a barbecue in the lot for those who help.
For Tom Johnson, the gesture by police and city staff is going a long way. As president of the homeowners association for Grande Circle 2, he regularly keeps up with people in the area. That includes calling police when something doesn’t look right.
“I’m one to speak up when it’s time. I’m old school,” Johnson said. “This is my neighborhood.”
Johnson attended the second such meeting at Grande with police and welcomed their return. He said Crime Prevention Specialist Jeff Conner has done a good job in communicating with residents and kept his word when talking about making changes.
“I get the feeling he’s sincere in what he’s saying. He’s being very straightforward,” Johnson said. “These community meetings are certainly showing some success. Everyone is encouraged to directly deal with police.”
A man stood up during that meeting to say his house had been burglarized, wondering how none of his neighbors saw anything. That’s when a woman stood up and said she lived near him, letting him know she or her husband would keep an eye out in the future.
That’s the kind of interaction police are hoping to foster, Conner said. As a crime prevention specialist, he often works with neighborhoods to create watch programs. Conner has led the public safety meetings and said the interaction between residents is just as important as talking with officers.
“It’s exactly what we are looking for,” Conner said about the exchange between the neighbors. “Had that meeting never occurred, who knows if they would have ever talked.”
Aside from just their presence at the meeting, Conner said the department is working toward trust, something he said can be a challenge in these areas. By coming back for repeated meetings, Conner is able to gauge whether what police are doing is actually working.
The ultimate plan is to enlist neighborhood leaders who will take over the responsibility of working with police and being a point of contact.
“What we are trying to do is build a bank of trust,” Conner said. “Not everyone trusts the Police Department. We know that.”
Going into the neighborhoods began as a vision of City Manager Sean Quinn and his staff, said Dawn LaBar, Fairfield’s legislative and special project manager.
To apply for federal Community Development Block Grants, several areas that have low-income residents and high crime were identified and studied. Several areas in town fit that description and soon there was around $100,000 in grant money coming the city’s way.
The whole process is new and LaBar said everyone is learning as they go along.
“This isn’t coming from a checklist or a textbook,” she said. “It comes from a genuine care and love for this city.”
LaBar said grant money is to be used in public areas to increase safety and lower crime. That means the city can’t use it to improve anything within the complexes or parking lots of the troubled units.
The city recently paid for security cameras and other measures outside of Parkway Gardens with the grants. Now there are early talks of using funds to create a lighted crosswalk across East Tabor Avenue near Major Market. All grant purchases must be approved by the Fairfield City Council.
LaBar said working with neighborhoods has become a priority and that residents are starting to respond to the city’s gestures. She said most of the crime is done by a small percentage of residents and people who don’t live in the area and are there to create mischief.
“It’s just the small that represent all. People want to have ownership of their neighborhood,” LaBar said. “We just need one leader, and one voice. These are the neighborhoods where the residents are speaking out and asking for help. It’s such a big thing to know that people are hearing them.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.