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Residents Help Make Neighborhood Safer

LAWTON Okla_ Residents of Lawton's Sanders Heights Apartments are back in the news. This time, though, it's because things are far more peaceful than they used to be.

The complex was the backdrop for several recent robberies, shootings and the brutal murder of Tanya Zachary last October. Residents have banded together to work with police, and it's paid off. 

Residents say the recent prayer walks and community watch meetings are working.

People are starting to let go of their fear of working with police. They say they're more committed to working as a team to get rid of the criminal element there and create a safe environment for their families.

As residents of Sanders Heights Apartments mingled with Lawton Police Department's Gang Unit Thursday, a feeling of solidarity was in the air. Police said it's a testament to the changes residents are making in their community.

"I think its real quiet now," Sanders Heights resident Gloria Garcia said, "Compared to what it used to be. It used to be a lot of ruckus, gang members and a bunch of people hanging out and acting foolish. Now, I feel safe to be here and let my kids go out and play without me."

"I'd have to say there was a lot of negative activity here," resident Janessa Carrion said. "When they started the community march here, I think it was really good for the community to come out here, open up and lift everybody's spirits out here."

LPD Gang Unit's Lieutenant Darrell Southerland said a strong relationship between residents and police is vital to stopping crime.

"The community has really come together and started really trusting the officers," Southerland said. "They're apt to come forward to officers when something happens. We're getting calls and being flagged down, especially the gang unit. The community has enjoyed us being out here, being on foot."

Residents and police said they hope that continues, especially for the complex's youngest residents.

"It's gotten a lot better," resident Karissa Melrose said. "I didn't let my kids go outside for almost a year, because, every time people do drive-bys out here, they don't care about your kids. They'll hit one of your kids or jump on one of your kids."

The manager of Sanders Heights has been a big part of this push to make the complex safer. She said it's become much easier to get rid of strangers loitering around the complex, which has been a big problem in the past. She said residents let her know when things are happening, and she calls the police.

A more peaceful atmosphere is not the only change at Sanders Heights. Local Pastor Michael Cross is part of a group that will start offering life skills courses at the complex's clubhouse. The courses will expose residents to social networking, continued education and exposure to new environments.

"It will give them a different aspect of their own environment," Cross said. "It will help them feel better about themselves. Once a person feels better about themselves, they'll feel better about their community, where they stay and where they live."

Pastor Cross said the group got the idea from a program at a similar project in California.


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