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Oak Lea residents look for answers

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

"What can we do?" residents of the Oak Lea subdivision asked at a meeting Friday night with City Councilman Ronny Russell and Decatur Police Chief Ken Collier.

Russell and Collier attempted to answer the questions residents raised on issues ranging from burglaries to a 4-year-old walking the streets alone. More than 50 residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns.

The Police Department, city government and residents plan on working together to alleviate the community's problems.

The goal of the police, Collier said, is to form a direct link between residents and an officer and to increase the number of patrols.

"Our plan is to help solve your problem, and we plan on doing that by establishing a community-oriented department," Collier said. The plan includes a supervisor for the Oak Lea area whom the residents will feel comfortable contacting directly. Collier said he hopes this would improve the service the police provide to homeowners.

"When we go out, regardless of the nature of the crime, we may not have fixed the problem, but we want the caller to know that we are concerned about them and are trying to fix the problem," he said.

In addition to the "community-oriented department," Collier said the addition of new police officers will increase the safety of the entire city, including Oak Lea subdivision.

"We just put 11 officers on the road that have been through the academy. ... We just need to make sure we have them deployed in the right kind of way."

Oak Lea resident Kevin Copeland agreed with Collier, saying increased police patrols will discourage unwanted activity. "I think that higher police presence will spook them." Copeland said.

Russell suggested the community form a neighborhood watch and a homeowners' association. "Three other neighborhoods had similar situations, and they formed a neighborhood watch. ... In every situation the situations got better," Russell said.

While the neighborhood watch would initiate communication among residents, a homeowners' association would allow them to take action and better maintain their property, Russell said. The community also could better address such issues as fence maintenance and the erecting of streetlights.

"I can probably justify fixing the fence at the end of the road, but I can't justify to other homeowners' associations fixing your whole fence," Russell said.

The homeowners are willing to take action. One resident said, "Whenever you see something, you need to call the police no matter how minor it is."

Another resident concluded, "We don't want to be the problem, we want to be the problem-solvers. We need to be a team and work as one."

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