Citizen Staff Writer
It’s hard to sleep when your neighbor gets blown away by an intruder.
Just ask Joe Miller, longtime Midvale Park resident and new neighborhood association president, who’s watched his family-friendly neighborhood turn into a den of druggies, homeless and thieves over the past few years.
Police say crime has been increasing in the neighborhood for the past 10 to 15 years. Crime in this sprawling community of nearly 5,000 households and 20,000 people west of Interstate 10 and north of Valencia Road peaked near the end of last year with four home invasions in less than two months.
The home invasion that killed Miller’s neighbor, Martin Guillermo Rodriguez, 36, happened in the early morning hours of June 26 when intruders forced their way into his South Beardslee Drive home. Rodriguez’s wife called 911 after he was shot, but it was already too late. The would-be robbers fled.
By the end of 2006, Midvale Park had racked up a slew of stash houses, homeless camps, illegal dumping, graffiti and the home invasions that left two residents and one invader dead.
“Enough was enough,” Miller said. His neighbors agreed. But rather than hightailing it out of there or putting bars on the windows and hoping for the best, they decided to fight back.
It started from the bottom up. First, more people started joining the neighborhood association; meetings of 10 turned into meetings of 80. Residents then called in police, their city councilman, the homeowners association and other local agencies.
All came together to join the fight to take back their neighborhood.
“We received negative press from the tragedy in our community,” neighborhood association Vice President Lucia Vindiola said. “Now we are springing into action to deal with the tragedies, address the issues and curtail the crime in our community.”
A big step was a January meeting of the Southside Neighborhood Association Presidential Partnership, or SNAPP, an umbrella organization composed of several area neighborhood associations.
More than 100 people showed up. Support came from Tucson police Chief Richard Miranda, City Councilman José Ibarra and dozens of concerned residents.
Police outlined a plan for Operations Division South that included increased surveillance, help from the Counter Narcotics Alliance, a partnership with Ward 1 concerning the home invasions and upcoming enforcement issues to focus on graffiti, junked vehicles and wildcat car sales lots.
The focus was to make the neighborhood friendly for families again and unfriendly for criminals, homeless, taggers and other miscreants.
Lt. Frank Greene, who oversees the Midvale area, said most of the extra surveillance has ended, save for the targeted response unit. Its goal is to knock on every door in Midvale to hear neighbors’ concerns and check out their complaints.
“It’s nice to work with people who want to work with you,” Greene said.
A police summary of the unit’s Midvale activity from Jan. 22 through Feb. 28 included 39 reports of suspicious activity from neighbors.
Police say 21 of those reports were cleared by knock and talks, eight led to evictions, four required search warrants and there were six people arrested.
But neighbors are not leaving the policing just to the police. Out of the association grew neighborhood watch groups, one of TPD’s surefire suggestions to help make the streets safer.
“All neighborhood watches are is bringing up your awareness,” said Tucson police community relations Officer Cindy Dunn, who represents Midvale.
In addition to tips on how to keep homes safer with stronger locks and yards safer with trimmed landscape, TPD offers help starting watches all over Tucson.
“It’s not a difficult thing to do,” Dunn said. “What’s difficult is to get the residents involved in it, to get active. Midvale Park appears to be strong.”
Once a neighborhood watch becomes effective, Dunn said, others spring up around it. Miller said the Midvale Park area had hoped for five neighborhood watch programs by the beginning of the year. Instead, the response was in the double digits.
“Twenty-six people offered to be block captains,” he said.
The increased vigilance in the neighborhood for the start of 2007 has had a mixed effect on crime. Midvale crime statistics show an increase in certain areas from January through March compared to the same period last year. Arrests for burglaries, stolen cars and drugs are up, but arrests for robbery, theft and criminal damage are down.
Brenda Johnson, who manages the Woods apartment complex at 1970 W. Valencia Road, has meetings she calls “safe parties” for her tenants. Her complex is also certified by TPD as crime-free multihousing, which means she has attended classes on how to be aware of crime and combat it.
Checking for abandoned cars in the parking lot, screening tenants through a fax service that alerts landlords of undesirables who may be apartment hunting, being active in the neighborhood association and holding two “safe parties” per year are some of her methods.
“Once crime gets pushed off of one street, it’ll go to another street,” Dunn said. “Keeping the crime off their own street is the goal.”
With Midvale, the goal is to fortify and beautify the entire area through a slew of programs.
They already follow TPD’s tips for being neighborly by holding community events. Their annual neighborhood picnic is in its 12th year and is habitually sponsored by more than 40 businesses.
Other improvement projects have been helped by Tucson Clean and Beautiful, an Adopt-a-Wash program and the Department of Neighborhood Resources, which cleaned up graffiti in a jiffy.
“We helped defeat the notion that you could tag in Midvale,” said Tucson DNR Director Eliseo Garza. “In responding timely to those requests, we’re part of the character of the neighborhood. It’s this ‘Don’t trash our neighborhood’ mentality.”
New lighting and a new park are also on the Midvale agenda, thanks to neighborhood grants.
The park is planned in cooperation with Grijalva Elementary School, 1795 W. Drexel Road.
“There’s two places we fit in” with making Midvale safer, Grijalva Principal Ann Rivera said. The neighborhood association meetings are often held at the school, and she helped write the proposal to build and create the park, located just west of the school.
“It’s a little park of our dreams,” Vindiola said, adding work has already started.
Work also is slated to begin next year on $500,000 for 64 arterial lights throughout the neighborhood.
“Midvale Park Road has some really nice sidewalks. It’s a really nice area bikes can go down,” Miller said, “but no one uses it at night because it’s dark, pitch black.”
Also on the Midvale agenda is a host of new stores to match the already booming Wal-Mart.
“A lot of people are starting to see Midvale Park must be a good place to put a couple of things,” Miller said, adding a Chili’s restaurant just moved in.
The Spectrum Project, which aims to fill the shopping center by Wal-Mart, has high hopes for higher-end stores, Miller said.
MIDVALE CRIME STATS
Midvale 2006 crime totals
Criminal damage 221
Stolen cars 237
How to start your own neighborhood watch group:
• Select a leader.
• Schedule an initial meeting with your TPD division representative. Call four to six weeks in advance. See phone list for your community service officer.
• Neighborhood watch meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on a weeknight.
• To ensure TPD support, neighborhood watch groups with a TPD representative must be held once a year.
• Hold as many additional meetings as necessary.
• The initial meeting will be led by the TPD representative and cover topics of neighborhood watch, home security and calling 911 versus the nonemergency report line at 791-4444.