Lone Star: not as bad as a set from HBO's The Wire
Holy Frijoles! After living in the Lone Star neighborhood for more than one year I attended my first neighborhood association meeting and who should I see but SAPD chief William McManus. I didn't know we were neighbors? Turns out we're not. McManus held court at the St. Phillip's Hall on East Lambert Street to inform the 70-person plus audience about Problem Oriented Policing, or “POP.” It's a crucial element of the city's combined Eastside Initiative implemented earlier this year to address District 2 woes from stray dogs to hookers. At some point, someone Lone Star denizen probably read one of several glowing Express-News reports on the POP program, walked out onto their Steves street front stoop and thought, “hookers? strays? Hell, I've shooed both off my lawn before my first cup of coffee!”
Thus the humble Lone Star neighborhood association found the Chief in its midst, carrying on about how their â??hood would likely be the next to host the community-policing crossover conversations between SAFFE cops, quality of life city departments, and neighbors (and these viejita/os LOVE to talk, trust). According to Chief McManus, he attended on the invitation of the Neighborhood Association just to hear their concerns on a host of issues from major to laughably minor, like one elderly lady's complaint that her young next door neighbor's music was “so annoying it made me nervous.” The chief quickly mentioned POP as “the solution to the issues Lone Star has.”
Now, I know my little corner of the world, located south of Alamo Street, North of I-10, west of Mission and East of South Flores, isn't as safe as, say, a gated community, and friends and family have offered me various self-defense mechanisms because they “know the part of town I live in,” but, is crime really so bad as it was on the Eastside? As a whole, this year our City Council District 5 reported two murders from Jan. 1 through June 30, the lowest of any district, and drilling down to the Lone Star neighborhood, violent crimes make up about 15 percent of all our reported crimes, based on YTD stats gathered by the Neighborhood Association. However, people be thievin' on the regular over here, too. Those same statistics show that burglary and theft of homes, businesses, and cars accounts for nearly 40 percent of reported crimes in Lone Star. We also have our fair share of tacky graffiti, and, to hear some meeting attendees tell it, panhandlers. In a follow-up interview McManus explained that the Eastside's huge coordinated push led to a misconception about POP. “Lone Star is not going to be â??the next' big initiative,” he said, “POP can be a smaller project that the police substation manages.” And don't worry too much, Lone Starites, any neighborhood with quality of life concerns could benefit from a POP, said McManus during the meeting. “Every neighborhood in the City wants a POP, so we have to pick our battles.” He surveyed the large and attentive crowd, “just form the turnout here tonight, this is the next battlefield.” McManus appeared with local SAFFE officer Steve Ornelaz, two code compliance officers, COSA Housing and Neighborhood Services Department sweep program analyst Domingo Portillo and Michael Tejeda, chief of staff for Councilman David Medina office. Portillo got high marks for accessibility, handing out his business card to everyone at the meeting and ensuring the Association that he is “on call 24/7,” to help address issues from speeding to improperly parked cars.
Somewhat less impressive was Mr. Tejeda's advocacy of the 311 system. “I'm gonna tell you, the service level is getting pretty high,” he indeed told the crowd. Based on some 311 responses (or lackthereof) discussed in the meeting, it seemed the only thing “getting pretty high” was the 311 responders themselves. Like the one who recommended an elderly lady (yes, there were more than one in attendance), corral a pit bull that liked to chase her home from church in her own yard until Animal Care Services could come and pick it up, which takes at least one day unless it starts biting grandma. Tejeda also tickled us when a concerned Deborah Vasquez, an artist at the Gallista Gallery at Lone Star and Flores and new owner of the adjacent Cafe Citlali, asked if anything was being done to address the underlying issues of panhandlers asking businesses and residents for food or money. She said she didn't mind helping them, but seemed a little peeved at the audience's callous calls to make more effort to lock up spare-change-seekers. “Are there any efforts to be proactive?” she wondered. Tejeda replied that perhaps they could consider not just fining the hapless hand-out seekers, but also the business owners throwing a taco or two their way. “I think you're misunderstanding me,” she said. To his credit, we later observed Tejeda and Vasquez in private conversation, hopefully clarifying Vasquez's important question.
To here McManus tell it, POP may be more aligned with Vasquez's social justice concerns than one would normally expect of a police initiative. “You can't arrest all these problems away,” he repeated to us (see “No Happy Endings” in Aug. 4 QueQue ) before acknowledging, “I say that all the time.” A neighborhood like Lone Star might not need an initiative on the scale of the Eastside's, but he reckoned, it likely needs a little extra TLC to address the type of small potatoes issues that pile up on residents, especially the elderly and impoverished, and can lead to neglect. “When the appearance of a neighborhood is bad, it attracts bad things, that's how neighborhoods go into a tailspin,” he told me. First, code compliance officers, SAFFE officers and members of other relevant city departments (Animal Care Services comes to mind...) meet with neighborhood residents to identify the most pressing, systemic issues. Then the most relevant city agencies develop a response plan to address the issue, which is then evaluated for effectiveness until the end goal is reached. That doesn't always mean dispatching more cop cars, or writing more tickets. “This area needs a smarter approach than simply saturating it with extra police,” McManus said. It could be simply identifying city programs that the neighborhood could tap into, like graffiti abatement or housing grants.
I immediately thought about the two vacant lots on my block, the shady warehouse, and the neighbor's yard that reeked of cat pee before recalling the many amateur gardeners on my street, the art galleries around the corner and the new Mission Reach bike trail an easy pedal down the road. Not exactly a set from “The Wire”, but still, not even atheists want pit bulls chasing little old church ladies down their block.