Walking for safety: Highland Park neighbors, police unite in effort to fight crime

Walking for safety: Highland Park neighbors, police unite in effort to fight crime

July 1st, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke joins participants in a safety walk at Monday at Tatum Park. The Highland Park Neighborhood Association hosted the walk.

Photo by Erin O. Smith/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher speaks at Tatum Park on Monday. The Highland Park Neighborhood Association hosted a safety walk in the park.

Photo by Erin O. Smith/Times Free Press.

Five-year Highland Park resident Joseph Stephens ambled up to a group of kids playing basketball on the side of South Holly Street, grabbed the ball and threw up a shot.

He missed.

"That's the first time I ever missed," he cracked. The kids giggled and even the teenagers smiled. Then the group moved on.

That's what it's all about, Highland Park residents say. Little interactions like that are why about 50 neighbors and police officers took to the streets of Highland Park on Monday evening for a safety walk sponsored by the Highland Park Neighborhood Association.

"We want to let the good people know we're here to support you, and let the criminals know we're not going to tolerate it," said Jackie Phelps. She and her husband have owned a home in the neighborhood since 2002.

"We think our kids are better for growing up in a transitional area," she adds.

It's an optimism reflected throughout the group. Highland Park in recent years has been a high-crime neighborhood - so far this year the area has seen four shootings and a homicide - but neighbors are adamant that it's getting better. They buy flowers for their porches, keep their lawns neat, meet their neighbors. But it's still an uphill battle.

Currently, the neighborhood is experiencing an uptick in street robberies, said Chattanooga police Lt. Glenn Scruggs. That's the kind of robbery that's typically impulsive, and often juvenile-related, he said.

"It comes with the summer months," he said. "But we're cracking down on it."

Mayor Andy Berke and Chattanooga's new police Chief Fred Fletcher joined the walk Monday, meandering for about an hour through Highland Park with the crowd. And after one of the most violent weeks of the year for the city - five shootings and three homicides in the last 10 days - both noted the poignancy of the walk.

"Next time we want to do this before the week of tragedy," Fletcher said.

He added he was impressed with the neighborhood's grass-roots commitment to curbing crime. Since he was sworn in on June 12, Fletcher has promised to build an "extroverted" police department that's focused on working with communities to solve problems.

Addressing the crowd in sweltering humidity Monday, he grinned.

"This," he said, "is what neighborhood policing looks like to me."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips and story ideas.