Taking it back
Micha Way residents, city reps express concerns, search for solutions
By Angelina Bellebuono and Kathryn Purcell
Taking it upon themselves to combat drugs and loitering, among other crime, in their Micha Way neighborhood, residents and management of Madison Square Duplexes again approached the Madison City Council Monday night to share their concerns and ask for support in finding solutions.
Since the Madison City Council meeting two weeks ago, a task force, including representatives of the Madison City Council, the Madison Police Department, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department and management from two of the three multi-family housing developments—Orchard Grove Apartments and Madison Square Duplexes—situated on or around Micha Way, was formed and met.
Central to the ongoing discussion within the group thus far is the development of a Neighborhood Watch program.
“I’m sold on the Neighborhood Watch program, we’re signed up,” Bill Doyle, owner of Madison Square, said. “I’ve already got a coordinator, and I have two block captains."
Local law enforcement is on record as being supportive of the project.
“They want a Neighborhood Watch," Assistant Chief Carl Jones said, in an interview last week. "We're going to help with that."
Without the prompt of local law enforcement, residents began their own grassroots foot patrols some time ago. Now part of a Neighborhood Watch foot patrol, they have been threatened with bodily harm by those they are trying to drive out, even as recently as last week.
One Madison Square resident spent last Friday and Sunday nights patrolling the Madison Square area, and is planning to continue his efforts, despite the verbal threats he received.
"We need help from the police department," he said. "We can't do it all ourselves."
Manager of Madison Square Bobbi Randall makes it her responsibility to patrol the area. Additionally, she has the authority to enforce certain lease agreements, including an 11 p.m. curfew. She has often stayed up until the early hours of the morning, asking people to go into their homes or leave the premises.
"My tenants are scared," Randall said, in an interview last week. "I've got my gun; I've got my taser; I've got my cell phone,"
Part of the problem, according to Randall, is the abundance of people loitering throughout Madison Square, many of whom are teenagers.
"The problem has been going on since I've been here," Randall, manager of Madison Square for over a year, said. "Kids come from all directions and walk in and walk between [the duplexes]."
Altogether, according to 911 logs, about 350 calls had been made for emergency services (including medical emergencies) over the past year. Although more calls tend to be made between Thursday and Sunday and 10 and 11 p.m., Stapp said that is a pattern that holds true all over the city.
Despite her repeated requests for assistance, Randall alleges that the police can't be counted on to respond. Moreover, she has been treated unprofessionally by police officers when they have responded to Randall's calls to Morgan County 911.
"I've had many deputies say, 'Well, look at where you live,'" Randall said.
When Randall reported this to Madison Police Chief Travis Stapp, he asked her for a specific incident.
"I told her if she could name a specific time, specific date, I would look into it," Stapp said, in an interview last week. "That's not the professional standard we have here in the police department."
The need for a police presence, however, was evident at Monday's city council meeting, when residents shared what they've experienced during their time residing in Madison Square.
Madison Square resident Amy Cape shared with the city council that she was robbed at gunpoint as she left her car to enter her residence on May 15, 2007.
"I was told that in a few days I would be contacted by a detective," Cape said. "In 17 months, I have never heard anything from them. I want everyone to know the seriousness of this situation."
One Madison Square resident addressed the city council because she believes that action now will lessen the problem later.
"Many years ago, I lived at 399 West Jefferson [Street], behind the liquor store," she said. "We had kids there selling drugs and the police told us that if they are under 18, there is nothing that can be done about the problem. I don't want that to be a problem [at Madison Square] but right now these are kids that are out there selling drugs."
Despite the ongoing problems with crime, residents of Micha Way feel that their neighborhood is worth saving.
“It’s a nice place to live if you can live in peace,” said Orchard Grove resident Ella King.
Madison Mayor Tom DuPree agreed during Monday night's meeting.
"Madison Square looks and feels like a neighborhood," DuPree said. "There are flowers in the yard and kids on bikes. Orchard Grove is clean and neat. But, the back duplexes have the same piles of trash every time I go, the same children that look lost."
Plans are being made to increase patrol, both marked car and foot, according to Stapp and Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley, who will also be working within the area.
"We're going to be doing some extra patrols in the area, both in the Micha Way, that whole community, also over into Beacon Heights as well," Markley said. "We did this about two months ago, and reduced the number of calls from 32 to two in one month."
“The immediate efforts with respect to the city and the sheriff is the renewing of foot patrols [of law enforcement officials] at different times,” said Madison City Manager David Nunn. “We’re also doing road checks, just an increase in presence in the area…perhaps to dissuade some people from cruising through,” said Nunn.
DuPree said the city would do whatever it could do to help the neighborhood without treading on the rights of individuals.
“We don’t want a police state,” said DuPree. “None of us want to live in that.”