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Druid Hills Is 'Much Improved' But Is It Losing Ground?

Janet-Deshields.jpg
Janet Deshields in front of her Druid Hills home.

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110311.mp3

One of Charlotte's most historically troubled inner-city neighborhoods has seen remarkable improvement in the last decade. Druid Hills went from crime-ridden and drug-infested to a model of improvement. Now, some residents fear they're losing ground. After someone tried to break into Janet Deshields house the second time, she took things into her own hands. She put up a chicken-wire fence. And she had some left over, so she enclosed her front porch with the wire, too. "Yeah, that was all I could afford in my budget," says Deshields. "And then I got my dogs." A big Saint Bernard-German Shepherd mix now patrols the yard. In the last six months there have been 26 residential burglaries in Deshield's neighborhood. A year ago, that same period saw only two break-ins. Druid Hills was even named Charlotte's Neighborhood of the Year in 2009 for the strides it had made in safety and appearance Lynnette Dixon thought the award was "awesome." She lives a few doors down from Deshields. "I seen a change," says Dixon. "But now we have not a lot of police presence like we used to and not a lot of people getting involved anymore so crime went right back up." Druid Hills is an example of police "battling their success," says CMPD Captain Bruce Bellamy of the Metro Division. "Druid Hills had some record low numbers as it relates to crime last year." Bellamy attributes the recent rise in home break-ins rate to an increase in population: Some new developments have gone up in the area and more rental homes now have occupants. Here's another possibility - Druid Hills was part of an intensive neighborhood improvement program with the city until last year, when it was time for other neighborhoods to have their turn. Janet Deshields also points out that six months ago, the neighborhood's long-time police sergeant - Rick Korenich - retired. He encouraged residents to call his cell phone. "If there was something going on at 2 a.m. you could call him and say 'Sgt. Korenich I need police here,' and next thing you know the police are out here," says Deshields. "We don't have that now." Captain Bellamy says every sergeant has a personal style. The new sergeant in charge of the Druid Hills community may not know as many of the residents by name yet, but the police are at every neighborhood association meeting and eager to address concerns. In fact, Bellamy says officers have made nearly 800 spontaneous visits to Druid Hills in the last six months just to check on things. That's nearly twice as many as were made in the six months before that. Bellamy says residents need to look at the long-term gains: Residential burglaries between 2008 and 2010 were down ten percent compared to the three-year period of 2005-2007. In 1999, Habitat for Humanity arrived and over the last ten years, some streets in Druid Hills have become lined with Habitat homes. They are painted in neutral colors with bright white porches. "It's a big improvement from what was here before," says Darryl White, family services director for Habitat Charlotte. "There were wooded areas, dilapidated houses and basically not a whole lot, except some crime." Druid Hills has 83 Habitat homes - one of the highest concentrations in the city. That's actually a big reason the neighborhood has improved so much in the last few years. Habitat homeowners are required to take classes in leadership and conflict resolution. Plus, White says the deed of trust for each home contains a clause that allows Habitat to foreclose on the owner if any illegal activity happens on the property. "I've had several people say, 'Hey, once I move into that house, I'm not letting too many of my family members come over,' because they know those family members are trouble," says White. "The families understand that we can foreclose if something happens on the property - even if it's not them doing it." So far that hasn't stopped one young man with multiple burglary convictions and probation violations from living in his mom's Druid Hills Habitat home. The police have yet to catch him doing anything illegal at the home. Some residents are convinced he's a ring-leader in the recent wave of break-ins and worry when they see him loitering on the street with his friends, watching people leave their homes. Another Habitat homeowner - Gerone Beachem - says the solution is simple. "Call 9-1-1 when you see something like that," says Beachem. "Because if you don't call 9-1-1 the police presence will go to another area and not be here." Druid Hills residents haven't really had to be the squeaky wheel, because of the extra attention they've been getting from the city and police these last few years. But they say this recent crime streak has strengthened their resolve to change that.