Midtown Raleigh News

Residents, police join to improve safety

Fed up with loitering and drug activity behind a convenience store in their neighborhood, residents of Oak Haven went to the city to plead for help.

A year later, complaints are down and neighbors say safety has improved after a community police squad blanketed the area with bike patrols.

The owner of the store, Uncle Bill’s Mini-Mart, cleaned up the parking lot and pledged to cooperate with police.

Though plenty of work remains, neighbors say their quiet streets are no longer perceived as an easy place to make trouble.

Last week, police showed up in a mobile command unit for a meet-and-greet with residents, the latest form of outreach for Oak Haven, a northeast Raleigh neighborhood off New Hope Road outside the Beltline.

“These are retirees, people who are at home most of the time, and they’re very nervous about crime,” said Dora King-Morgan of the Friends of Oak Haven association. “They can see the neighborhood changing.”

With its ranch-style homes and big front yards, Oak Haven dates to the late 1960s when the area was part of rural Wake County. The city annexed the community in the early 2000s amid a wave of newer subdivisions as Raleigh grew to the north and east.

The growth brought renters, young families and teenagers to the area.It’s a combination that can cause culture clashes in older, more established places, said Sgt. D.L. Bond, a 16-year department veteran who oversees the northeast community police district.

Bond listened as neighbors vented about teens cutting through people’s front yards. He heard about the crowds hanging out at Uncle Bill’s, a corner quick-mart in operation since 1976.

Oak Haven made sense, Bond concluded, for bicycle patrols that are a staple of the community policing initiative supported by Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan.

“We’re not just rolling through in a police car and talking to them, and then going to the next 911 call,” Bond said.

Last fall, police arrested two men suspected of firing a semiautomatic pistol into a vehicle outside the store.

The incident stirred fear and frustration among neighbors. For years, they had complained about poor lighting, graffiti, a broken fence and the messy parking lot at Uncle Bill’s.

“Drug activity and underage drinking are the norm behind the store,” neighbors wrote in a 2001 letter outlining their concerns.

Officers on bikes moved in to enforce trespassing laws and discourage loitering. Bond said his squad is receiving “total cooperation and seeing positive changes on the property.”

Since Jan. 1, police have received 14 calls for service involving loitering or trespassing at Uncle Bill’s, compared to 35 calls in all of last year, according to department figures.

Just as important, King-Morgan said officers have developed relationships with people in the neighborhood and now refer to many by name.

“There’s a comfort level that wasn’t there before,” she said.