Cpl. Errol Randle, of the Charleston Police Department, gives 7-year-old Caleb Lycans a "Kids Print" application for identification at Orchard Manor in Charleston during National Night Out on Crime Tuesday.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Grovetta Roberts, 95, said that in the past, it paid to stick only with a close group of neighbors and friends.Now, she said, it makes more sense to get to know the community you live in and to unite around a common goal: standing together against criminal activity.Roberts handed out candy to children at Orchard Manor during Tuesday night's National Night Out Against Crime. The National Association of Town Watch created the annual event 29 years ago to deter criminal activity and raise awareness about neighborhood watch programs.Uniformed officers visited communities across Kanawha County to meet with and establish a positive relationship with the people they protect.At Orchard Manor, police and firefighters held a parade of sirens. Residents grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecued chicken. Children ran along collecting candy and toys that people handed out at various booths.It was a good sight to see, Roberts said.She has been living at Orchard Manor for about three years. She's heard about the area's reputation, but said she feels safe "100 percent.""The police patrol through here morning, noon and night," she said. "And if someone does act up, they are in here taking them out."In the early 1990s, Orchard Manor was the center of the crack cocaine epidemic in Charleston. Police and community leaders poured thousands of dollars into turning the neighborhood into a viable, protected location.Francis Jones remembers those bad days. She's been living there since 1996 but said it has definitely turned around, thanks to community involvement.
"Now we have a lot of activities for the kids and nice programs during the holidays," Jones said. "We just try to make it a good place for these kids."Over at Grace Baptist Church in St. Albans, community members and leaders were looking forward to building neighborhood unity, said Councilwoman Cheryl Thomas."I think we are getting closer to bringing back that camaraderie we lost," Thomas said. "We can just look out for one another or do little things for your neighbors."Thomas helped organize Tuesday night's event in St. Albans and expected to serve food to about 500 residents.St. Albans Police Capt. James Agee said community involvement is one of the biggest factors in helping police solve crimes. It's the residents who notice what's going on around them, he said.
"We have officers in a lot of the communities but not every community," Agee said. "Things can seem bad, especially if you live right next door to it."St. Albans now has several neighborhood watch groups in an effort to deter one of their biggest problems: prescription pill abuse.Patrolman P.A. Bass said he tells people who are interested in joining the watch group the same thing."You live in your neighborhood; you know better than we do about who belongs there," he said.Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.