A new tool for successful “Community Based Policing”

South Park has been lucky. For at least the last 20 years, we’ve had a “Community Based Police Officer” or two- paid for by the good folks at Premier Health Partners/Miami Valley Hospital.

Since we’re a Historic District, and they can’t just bulldoze South Park- they figured they better make sure it’s safe, so their employees and patients aren’t scared away- or car jacked on the way to the hospital. At first, we even had a social worker working with the CBP’s as we like to refer to them- to work out issues where the police may not be the best solution. It was an attempt to do creative problem solving. It wasn’t the right answer.

Since the effort began, things have changed thanks to the Internet, Facebook and a strong neighborhood organization. A private group started on FB to discuss and report crime within the ‘hood. Now when your car got broken into- you’d know instantly if you were a single target- or if they had walked a few streets on the way to your car. People would then review their security cams. One of our neighbors who was adamantly against video surveillance- ended up finding out who totaled her boyfriend’s car thanks to a neighbor who caught it on video. We could share mugshots of the people who were police suspects- we now know who to be wary of, and what they are wanted for. But, even with increased information, we were still not getting the results we wanted.

There was one petty thief who kept returning to the neighborhood to live with his mom between stints in prison, and like clockwork, we knew when he was out as garage burglaries picked up. He solved our problem by finally OD’ing on heroin. One problem solved. Unfortunately now, he might be saved by a police officer with Narcan. I’m not so sure I’m a fan of Narcan unless the very next step is always a year-long treatment/rehabilitation program that’s inpatient and that works. Otherwise, we’re just recycling our problems.

This last crime spree was getting increasingly annoying. You’ve seen the post about our neighborhood cancer home, and there have been a few other stories in the news. Enter the most successful crime-fighting tool we’ve found: a former Dayton cop who knows the system inside and out.

He has served as an advocate for the community, collecting all the information about the crimes, the perps, their records, their probation status- and working with the police and the prosecutors to make the case as strong as possible. You know those cork boards of criminal families you see in cop shows- he’s building them and getting input from residents on who is related to who, and who their friends or “running buddies” are. This all takes time.

He’s given the neighborhood the information to write letters to judges just before the case comes to trial. He’s worked with police and the probation department to do spot bed checks on juveniles with court-imposed curfews. With prosecutors, police and probation officials all overworked, he’s served as their criminal concierge, serving up the bad guys for maximum effect when they get to court. The focus on outcomes being reported back in a timely fashion, makes it clear to all that this is now a neighborhood that won’t accept plea bargains, light sentences or too many chances for the low-lifers who are making our neighborhood suffer.

So far, we’ve got about 8 bad actors getting hit hard with the full book. We’re still looking at going into mediation with one crime house to see what it will take to just get them to leave the area. Others are being tossed by landlords who “didn’t know.” Never before have we had such a good flow of information about the courts, the police, the perps and the outcomes.

Here is the secret to successful community based policing in summary:

  • Have a well-defined neighborhood with good boundaries.
  • Have a strong neighborhood organization, with a great online communication structure.
  • Assign at least two police officers to the neighborhood, who come to meetings, share a private number and are highly visible and well known to the neighbors.
  • Provide information on criminal records, mug shots, good descriptions of the problem children to the community. Make it clear who the police think are suspects, and ask for help with license plates, hours of activity, what they are wearing etc.
  • Have a coordinator who knows the police, probation, judges, court system, prosecutors working to collect and organize everything from insurance claims, video surveillance footage, records, and serve as a communications hub between all parties.
  • Monitor judges’ and the prosecutors’ performance, always asking for maximum sentences, and minimal plea bargaining.

In the last month, we’ve seen probation revoked, landlords evicting, cases consolidated and coordinated and even new efforts with “surge patrolling” by the police department, “bait” programs to catch petty thieves stealing, and a heightened level of alert, resulting in more people calling to report even the smallest of criminal behavior, or when we hear gunshots. Things that used to be ignored, now go reported, and have led to arrests.

Ideally, it shouldn’t be this difficult to live in the City of Dayton. Oakwood residents never have to commit this amount of time and energy to providing for their public safety. It’s unfortunate that the focus of our leaders hasn’t been a clean, safe community for decades, but that’s the first level of building strong communities. The foundation. The one that can’t be ignored- ever.

In the next few weeks we’ll find out if more judges respond to these improved tactics and how it changes things in South Park. Will the criminal element that lives and steals here learn that crime won’t pay in South Park anymore? To be continued…

 

Candidates nights: the inside scoop before the last 3 events

I try to keep all the events posted for people at www.electesrati.com/events, as far as I know, I’m the only one who does this, and certainly the only one who videotapes every event and posts them to youtube.

Tomorrow night we have the UpDayton forum at Wiley’s Comedy Club. Trust me, being able to drink while listening to most candidates talks makes it more bearable. Unfortunately, I don’t drink.

Let me explain the devolution of politics for you. We don’t have debates.

Here’s the definition- it seems to be forgotten: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

The way most candidates present: My name is ______________, I was born in Dayton, went to school at _____________, work doing _______________.

The audience should immediately start braying like a donkey. As if the candidate had anything to do with where they were born- and as if an education counts as qualifications for election (one only needs to look at Congress to see that anyone is equally capable of being a moron and elected at the same time).

Then they launch into their “platform”- which is either a history of committees or posts they’ve served on or their previous elected experience. At no point do they actually talk about anything they plan on doing- unless they are referring to some vaguely worded “plan” “roadmap” or “blueprint”- none of which means anything (especially if they’ve already been holding office and haven’t already implemented at least part of it….). Then they remind you of their name and to vote for them. Wow.

When it comes to questions- no, voters don’t ask about multi-million dollar investments in real estate by the city, or tax breaks for General Electric, or police hiring, or voting records, no, they ask about red light cameras and speed cameras. At least of the incumbents.

Never are candidates given the chance to ask each other questions, never are discussions focused on a subject for anything other tan a cursory 2 minute answer- without any give and take. The closest we’ve had to real questions was at the AIA lunch event, where a moderator asked questions we were supposedly given in advance. And, still, the answers didn’t require much research or thought.

That’s why this Thursday, Preservation Dayton may provide one of the most interesting events of this season. I am posting the entire communication they sent in prep last night for you to see what real, substantive questions look like. I hope to see you at the RTA center on Thursday night:

Candidates’ Forum – Vision for Protecting & Improving Dayton’s Housing and Commercial Buildings
Thurs. Oct. 24, 2013 7 – 9 p.m.
Dayton RTA Cultural and Community Center 40 S. Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, Dayton, OH, 45402 (937) 333-2489

Questions for candidates:

1) Building code compliance has been a major challenge for the City of Dayton for over 50 years. Deterioration of many Dayton neighborhoods has been drastically accelerated by predatory lending, unemployment, the financial crisis and more.

Given that many of these forces are largely uncontrollable, how would you go about protecting our existing, viable housing and building inventory if elected in November? And where does housing and building code compliance fall on your list of priorities for the City?

2) Compared to other Ohio cities, Dayton seems to lag in innovative policies, ordinances and operational solutions to proactively keep housing and commercial buildings up to code and to address many of the root causes of code violations. Here are some examples:

  • Point of sale exterior inspections e.g. Huber Heights
  • An annual fee for all vacant, undeveloped properties, not just bank-owned properties as recently passed by the Commission e.g. Cincinnati and Sandusky
  • The requirement for all absentee landlords to have a legally registered agent in the City who is held accountable on behalf of the property owner to comply with building codes e.g. Oxford
  • Giving police officers and other appropriate city employees authority to issue building and zoning code violation notices
  • A revolving fund, zero interest loans or other financial solutions to assist low income property owners bring their properties up to code

If elected in November, would you be willing to take a leadership position to implement any of these best practices or any other creative solutions proven to work in cities similar to Dayton? Why or why not?

3) As budgets and staff decrease, how would you go about getting your fellow commissioners and the city staff to fund the necessary budget, technology and staff to implement your vision for improving building code compliance?

Closing remarks: 2 – 3 minute summary of your priorities for improving proactive and efficient code compliance.

Format: Each candidate will be asked to speak on 2 – 3 questions for 3 minutes each. The questions will focus on legislative, policy and operational solutions for addressing deteriorating properties and ensuring the ongoing viability of stable properties in our city.

Audience members will write their questions on 3 X 5 cards and panel moderators will read the questions for your responses.
At approximately 8:40, each candidate will be given 2 – 3 minutes to summarize your top priorities for improving and protecting Dayton’s housing and commercial buildings.

Although these questions are tightly focused on the area of building codes and legal remedies, there are real questions and suggested positions to defend. One could almost learn something concrete from this forum.

Also note, if you are putting together a forum- don’t invite too many candidates because it makes it impossible to get enough substance out of the candidates. Do have a strict timekeeper, and make sure if accepting questions from the audience that they must be a question, they must be brief and focused and directed to all candidates- or all are given equal time to speak. Give at least several weeks notice- and try to make sure that there aren’t other events (like a commission meeting at the same time). Provide a PA- and preferably have the candidates speak from a podium- so that a camera only has to be focused one place.

If you’d like to be extra useful- collect names, emails and phone numbers of all in attendance and deliver to the candidates so they can continue the discussion. Also be aware of candidates bringing entourages to ask questions- instead, give the candidates at least one chance to ask each other questions.

Last but not least, don’t be jerks and try to limit public dissemination of your event. Banning cameras and recording devices- esp at events open to the public is embarrassing (Wayman Chapel on Sunday- this means you). Running for public office is, well, public. Let the first amendment do its job.

UPDATE

Here’s the video

Neighborhood plans from lifetime politicians don’t amount to much

One of my cottages needs painting. The city has written me up. It’s scraped to the bare wood- and needs a final sanding, washing and then priming with a good oil based primer and then a premium latex top coat. Most people wouldn’t scrape it to bare wood, but, that’s the only way to do a proper paint job on a 100 year old house with 104 siding.

When I bought it from the slumlord, it had asbestos shingles on it. I could have left them on and kept painting away, but I didn’t. It also was being used as an illegal drugstore- that bothered me more than what it looked like. That’s because neighborhoods aren’t made up of houses, they are made up of people. That’s why I bought that cottage and the one next to it- right across the street from my house. Since 1996 I’ve had good people living in both of them. They work, they pay rent, they don’t have 22 police calls a year like another house on my block.

A.J. Wagner, thinks the answer to fixing our neighborhoods is strong enforcement of housing codes:

The very survival of our neighborhoods and our entire City requires an expanded level of accountability and focus. Many of our neighborhoods are in a dismal state of decline. Dayton spent $10 million last year on housing demolition only to fall further behind on the number of houses that cannot be saved. This trend can only be reversed through a strong enforcement of housing codes.

via A.J. Wagner’s Neighborhood Plan | A.J. Wagner for Mayor 2013.

Nan Whaley thinks the solution is tearing down the houses that have fallen into disrepair (of course when you get big donations from demolition contractors and landfill operators it may sway your policy too). Considering she’s been on the commission for 8 years, for her to have any new plan or idea on how to solve this problem is farcical. She weighs in on Wagner’s plan (correctly for once) in the Dayton Daily news:

Whaley said of Wagner’s plan, “This isn’t a neighborhood plan, it’s a housing plan and a bad one at that.” She asked where the money will come from for Wagner’s extra inspectors, and said Wagner wrongly downplays the city’s demolition efforts. Wagner’s plan claims Dayton spent $10 million on demolition last year, when the total was actually $2.36 million in 2012, according to city officials, and roughly $10 million from 2009-12.

“We need to create incentives for buying and restoring blighted property, but Wagner’s plan punishes homeowners and creates more bureaucratic red tape,” Whaley said….

Wagner said he is uniquely qualified to deal with neighborhood housing problems, because he’s dealt with code violations as an attorney, property tax enforcement as a county auditor, foreclosure cases as a judge, and probate cases as a referee and counselor.via Mayoral candidate targets neighborhood quality.

The paper also quotes Leitzell, who isn’t a career politician and has actually restored a home or two, and led a neighborhood (as have I):

Leitzell said the solution is “much simpler” than Wagner’s plan.

“Marketing Dayton at a national level and attracting talented people and immigrants to fill the hundreds of unfilled high-tech jobs here would go a long way toward solving some of these neighborhood problems,” Leitzell said.

Notice, Leitzell talks about people- and filling homes? He gets it. People make neighborhoods- not the buildings. That was the sales pitch I made to the neighborhood when I made our marketing video, “South Park Soliloquy” back in 1996. It wasn’t about the historic homes, it was about the people and the neighborhood. It’s 30 minutes long- but still worth watching.

The idea of legislating our housing stock into desirability is embarrassing. It shows how out of touch Wagner is with the plights of our neighborhoods. We have laws against drug houses too, and we can’t enforce those. And, as I’ve said before, my office building was ready for demolition when I bought it, and the number one thing holding people back from rehabbing it was that the number of hoops I had to jump through to do it didn’t equal the potential value after completion for most. I looked at it differently- knowing that it helped the value of my home, and that by making it possible for me to walk to work for 23 years I’d be saving a lot of money on gas and time in travel.

There are lots of things we can do that don’t cost a ton of money to bring our neighborhoods back, but they are only going to come back if the people in the neighborhoods now believe in their own neighborhoods’ future, the people around them, and that they will live in a safe place. We don’t do that by making sure a house is painted or it has gutters or we’ll fine you. In fact, Wagner’s requirement of having a home that’s rundown fixed before it can be sold will probably cause even more abandoned real estate and deeds turned over to a city that has a lousy history of rehab and a 29-year backlog on demolition.

There are no short answers, political slogan worthy solutions to fixing our neighborhoods (or housing stock). For me to explain my ideas fully would take nearly a book, but it comes down to empowering neighborhoods to ramp up their density, or circle the wagons and weather the storm. What we have to be most focused on is quality of life, and empowering people to make their own futures, because government can’t solve all the problems- it can just strive to do government as efficiently and effectively as possible. Instead of worrying about the paint, let’s worry about police response times. Instead of worrying about the gutters on your eaves, lets get the people who require the multiple police calls a month to leave and that they aren’t welcome here. Instead of tearing down houses, let’s try to make neighborhood programs that bring people (young and old) together so that when they want to sell their friends on moving into their neighborhood- it’s the people you live next door to that sell the neighborhood more than the buildings.

Dayton loses talent: the Buckmans have left the building

It was probably around 1995 or so. Bill Rain and David Williams had just finished the Lofts of St. Clair, a conversion of the butt-ugly Pinsky Produce building on St. Clair. The aluminum siding had been torn off to expose a beautiful brick building. It had color- and a roof garden. They’d shoved probably one too many “lofts” per floor into it- making them more like apartments than lofts (lofts then were still supposed to be lofts- with open floor plans- and the only real private room being the “privvy.”

The ground floor had office space – a “mixed use” development. OMG. In Downtown Dayton? The city had given them grief about the amazing old HUGE freight elevator (big enough to put your car on it) being used by mere mortals- the project was a condo- so the building owners would be allowed to use it – but not visitors… or some such nonsense. The basement had become a parking garage- a very tight one- but, it worked.

Photo stolen from Barry Buckman's facebook profile

Barry Buckman. Architect. Visionary.

The architects on the project were to be the commercial tenants in the “front” office space- Mary Rogero and Barry Buckman- who had decided to leave Woolpert to begin doing what they thought was missing in Dayton- urban modernist architecture. At first, they lived off  projects for Citywide and social-service type grant projects and a few small commissions, but as time moved forward so did the ambition meter. It was here that I first met these urban visionaries who would go on to transform Dayton almost by themselves.

Barry’s wife opened a hip little gift shop, “GO Home” next door to the first upscale restaurant on Fifth Street in the Oregon District- Pacchia. She sold home accessories from companies like Umbra and Alessi, as well as cards, and gift items. She was an architect too- but saw an opening in the market and went for it. The store was different- in that almost all the store fixtures were made by the owner and her husband. A lot of MDF that looked raw yet finished. The racks were on industrial wheels. People waiting to get into Pacchia would browse and buy, there was a reason to go down to the Oregon District to actually buy something other than entertainment or jewelery. Things were looking up.

As Rogero Buckman grew- and evolved to become just RBA– Dayton saw the fruits of their creativity. I’m not going to list everything- just the ones that seemed to really change things:

They turned the vacant and condemnable church at the corner of Cass and Clay into a rock climbing temple- the Urban Krag. It was a stunning re-purposing of a building that had lost its ability to function in a world that requires huge parking lots to serve the purpose it was intended for. I could take a little credit on this one, as I helped Karl and Melissa find this building after their plans for the still vacant DP&L steam building on the corner of 4th and St. Clair never worked out.

They inspired the church’s owner, Tim Patterson, to also try converting the church that backed up to it at Van Buren and Clay- into luxury condos- and the Buckmans moved into the front one. Here was an architect who lived in his project (something that a surprising number of architects don’t do).

RBA moved into the 2nd floor of what became the Cannery at Wayne and E. Third- and guided that complex project of marrying 6 different buildings into one huge rental block with retail on the base floor. Unfortunately, due to some HUD requirements- their original concept of having other businesses join them on the second floor got nixed, and they had to move yet again. The stupidity of this change added to the number of parking spaces required at night- compared to keeping spaces revolving between daytime and nighttime uses- the city was of no help. It took the city at least ten years to authorize the “radical” concept of end-in parking in front of this building- something RBA suggested along with many others right from the start. Go Home moved over to the corner- and grew to sell modern furniture- making it an upstairs-downstairs work situation for the Buckman family.

The CooperLofts were another groundbreaking work- starting with an old warehouse building downtown- and building a totally modern addition- with funky siding and odd angle protrusions. The building at the corner of Second and St. Clair is just two blocks away from the little office where RBA began- and also about the same distance from the Cannery. The circle of influence of this small firm is probably more compact than any other architecture firm in town. It’s as if Barry and Mary were on a mission to transform the city- by working in a spiral from their original base camp.

The sculptures and the two service buildings for Riverscape as well as the Fountain towers are their design, as is the uber hip black house on Emmet Street across the river, the Firefly building on Webster at First (where their third and final office is). The Real Art building on First St. across from the ballpark, the inside of Therapy Cafe in the Cannery, the Fairgrounds neighborhood- project “genesis” was theirs- along with one custom house tucked away by Denny’s that is really cool… the list goes on. The mark RBA made will last a long time in Dayton.

One of their most interesting projects is the LiteHouses along Patterson. These “manufactured” homes- as in built in a factory and trucked to the site to be snapped together like Lego blocks, were an innovative game changer in Dayton. LEED certified, you could buy a home that the annual utility bill was lower than your monthly house payment. The plan was to build a lot of these- but, with the financial collapse and appraisers not able to get out of their “comp” mindset- financing became difficult for the kind of people that these were built for. In a particularly shitty move- the city of Dayton decided to hand over one of the future sites to Charles Simms development (along with $300K) to build something generic across the street.

Along the way I got to do the RBA website (which sadly never really ever got updated) and was seemingly always in their circle of influence. We were kindred souls in having a vision for Dayton that didn’t include cookie cutter solutions. The annual invite to watch the fireworks from the roof of the Firefly building was always appreciated- especially since I could rub elbows with many of the people whom I use as content for this blog :-)

But, despite all our efforts to attract and keep the “Creative Class” in Dayton- we’ve failed.

About a month ago, Barry took a job in North Carolina for a large architecture firm, and Audry closed up her final and fourth location of Go Home- which got a paragraph in the Dayton Daily.

Was it the frustration of dealing with a chief building inspector who could find a new way to say no on every single project they did? Or the city handing off lots that could have had a really cool LiteHouse style block on it? Was it the difficulty of challenging the big firms with political clout and connections- who seemed to use RBA as their minor league farm club? Or was it just the desire to move back to NC and be closer to aging parents? Or all of the above?

Either way- they slipped out of town, without a celebration of their accomplishments and contribution to this community- one that probably won’t be understood by very many people- until maybe twenty years from now. We were lucky to have a 16-year run of exceptional talent doing fantastic things in Dayton. To me, they set the bar higher for every architecture firm in the region. One day, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are architecture tours in Dayton of their projects- as models of how a small firm can make a high impact mark on a community.

In my opinion the difference between RBA and Frank Lloyd Wright was the lack of a benefactor to propel them to their well-deserved glory. Maybe not from an architectural design standard- but to one for transforming a community via good design. When local kingmaker Clay Mathile went outside the area to hire architects to do the Aileron building- he overlooked an opportunity to give the home team a chance to really strut their stuff. Just like local restaurants- if we don’t support them, we may only have the choice of chain restaurant food through our choices.

The office is still open- being run by South Park resident Matt Sauer, finishing up projects and even taking on a few new ones. Mary has been only peripherally involved over the last 4 or so years- as she accepted a professorship at Miami University in Oxford.

While most of Dayton probably never knew who was behind all these buildings and projects, I did.

This is my tribute to Barry and his vision. I hereby proclaim today Barry Buckman and RBA day. Giving you a key to the city is inappropriate- since you were the living embodiment to being the key to our city through the last 16 years.

Dayton, you won’t fully realize what you lost until long from now. Just remember, you read it here first.

Woodland Cemetery Wayne Avenue entrance gate

I’ve been the keeper of the keys to the gates to Woodland Cemetery Wyoming Street for about a year.  Now, I have keys to the Waldo Street off Wayne Avenue entrance gate.

If you live along Wayne and would like access to one of Dayton’s best walking tracks, please stop by my office, The Next Wave, 100 Bonner Street, Dayton OH 45410 between 9am and 6pm.