It's a shame that somebody had to get killed at College Hill Courts before the Chattanooga Housing Authority established a police office at the public housing site, visitors and residents said.
"They should have been had [a police office]," said Kenneth Lee, who regularly visits his wife and two daughters, who have lived at College Hill Courts for five years.
To improve public safety, CHA board members voted this week to set aside a vacant unit at 1317 Cypress St. for police use. The office is just one block from where 20-year-old Cecil Timmons was shot to death June 19, the third of four shootings at the public housing site in the past three months.
Officials hope that increased police visibility in the area will deter crime. However, Chattanooga police have no plans to staff the office, CHA officials said.
The CHA board is concerned about the amount of crime at the site, said CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes.
"This is a way for us to increase visibility, and we're hoping that it will curtail crime," he said.
Lee hopes the office will change the dangerous atmos-phere at College Hill.
"The police don't get here until it's over with, when they're laying in a puddle [of blood]," according to the 40-year-old Lee, who said he sees three or four fights a week from his wife's porch in the 1200 block of Cypress.
"They gang you out here and they just leave you," he said. "They don't call the police."
He said his wife, 36-year-old Arica Lee, and 19-year-old daughter, who does not live at College Hill Courts, were assaulted in May when his daughter refused advances from a man on the site and he hit her on the mouth hard enough to cut her lip and for her to need dental work.
The same man assaulted Arica Lee when she tried to help her daughter, Kenneth Lee said.
Opening the police office depends on approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and, if approval is granted, the office will open within 30 days, said CHA Chief of Public Safety Felix Vess.
There have been discussions about a police office at College Hill Courts since early May, he said, but it has taken this long for the proposal to get to the CHA board.
Holmes said the recent shootings on the site did not speed up the process to get the police office resolution before the board.
Even if HUD approval comes, the office will not be manned 24 hours as a police precinct would be, Vess said. The office will be open to all law enforcement, not only CHA police, and it will be used for officers to do interviews and paperwork on site, he said.
Chattanooga police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said seven city police officers work part time for CHA at the agency's 15 sites and will be the ones most likely to use the office.
Vess said CHA also employs five full-time public housing police officers to man all of the housing sites.
It will be the first time a police office has opened at the site in about five years, records show.
A full police precinct was on Grove Street across from College Hill Courts in the early 2000s. The precinct was closed after funding for the Westside Weed and Seed program ended around fall 2006, according to news reports.
The Westside Weed and Seed is a Department of Justice program that put $2 million in grants in the Westside community to "weed" out crime and "seed" programs to make the community more productive. It was the first Chattanooga community to get the grant in 1995 and it got a renewal in 2000, but after funding ran out in 2006, several officials and police statistics say crime in the community returned.
Walter Williams, a former Westside Community Development Corp. board chairman and former Westside resident, had stated earlier that Weed and Seed caused a "rejuvenation" in the community, but the neighborhood has deteriorated since it ended.
"I see the community reverting back to what it used to be, all kinds of criminal activity, lack of hope and despair," Williams said. "You can drive by there now and see people hanging out. No hope. No opportunities afforded to the people."
Devoting the unit to police use will not take it away from a resident, CHA officials said. College Hill Courts has about 50 vacancies among its 497 units.
Cypress Street resident Brittney Hubert said she welcomes the police office, but she's concerned that, instead of fighting crime, the office will make it more convenient for CHA police to harass visitors.
The second day after she moved in, police asked to see her identification because her friends and family members were sitting on her porch, Hubert said.
Seeing the police talk to visitors is common, she said but when there is violence, police come when the incident is over. Perpetrators walk freely, but men coming to see their children and girlfriends are harassed, she said.
Lee said younger people at the site call him "Uncle Lee," and he grieves for the youth in public housing who end up dead or in jail before they're able to leave.
"I feel like I'm losing all my nephews," Lee said. "They're not even making it to [age] 21."