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Residents push for cameras at South First Street public housing

Residents of public housing on South First Street are continuing to push for crime enforcement as Charlottesville’s housing authority hammers out an action plan to address concerns.

Residents and officials discussed a very early draft of the action plan during a safety committee meeting of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority this week.

The Charlottesville Police Department increased patrols after an emergency meeting called two weeks ago in the wake of the slaying of 27-year-old Dre’Shawn Rayvon McDonald in South First Street public housing.

Police have responded to 12 shots-fired calls on South First Street so far in 2020, as many as 2016 through 2019 combined, according to CPD data. The areas around South First Street and Westhaven have seen at least three killings and 63 reports of shots fired in the past five years.

No shots-fired calls have come in for South First Street since the emergency meeting.

The action plan is in the earliest draft phases and focuses on creating short- and long-term safety policies, implementing physical improvements, increasing services and partnering with residents to tackle longstanding issues.

However, some residents at this week’s meeting said action needs to occur much sooner on South First Street.

“Enough is enough,” said Angela Barnes, who lives on South First Street. “When do we start fixing it and stop covering up things?”

Most of the discussion was around installing cameras on South First Street. Barnes said she was “all for the cameras,” but Joy Johnson, a public housing advocate, said it’s important to first come up with a policy for their use.

Johnson and Brandon Collins, lead organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents, said residents need to weigh the pros and cons of having CRHA or a security firm monitor the cameras rather than the police department.

Barnes, however, countered that CRHA might use the cameras for enforcement of lease regulations and petty crime rather than bigger issues. She was in favor of CPD having access to them.

“The housing authority is petty. They’ll get you for every little thing,” she said. “Everybody who lives in public housing is in violation [of their lease] in some way.”

Residents asked that someone present the pros and cons of who has access to the cameras at the next committee meeting.

Barnes was frustrated, saying action was happening too slowly. She asked if the process would speed up if she got a petition signed by all South First Street residents supporting the cameras.

“I don’t like logging onto these meetings because all we do is talk, talk, talk,” she said. “Tell me what I need to do and I will be on it.”

Collins pointed out that the housing authority will have to get the money to buy and install the cameras, which could take some time. He said the money likely won’t be available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“As we know, HUD doesn’t give a lot of money, so it’s important the housing authority goes out and finds money for these efforts,” he said.

CRHA is under contract with Millennium Security to provide services over weekends. The contract is expiring and CRHA will be using Century Force LLC beginning in the new year.

Millennium’s contract does not cover loitering and enforcement of the visitor policy, but ongoing concerns from residents have made those issues a part of discussions for the Century Force contract.

Collins emphasized that officials are taking the problem seriously.

“This is going to become a reality and you’re not the only person who wants to see this happen,” he told Barnes.

Johnson said it’s important to have a uniform camera policy on CRHA properties.

“Whatever policy we come up with on one site, I feel like it has to be on all sites. You can’t have a camera policy that is totally different on all sites,” she said. “I know South First Street needs it now.”

Laura Goldblatt, a member of CRHA’s board of commissioners, said the camera policy process might get expedited for South First Street.

Collins and Goldblatt plan to take their notes from the meeting and provide them to CRHA Executive Director John Sales. Goldblatt said future meetings will be an opportunity for residents to provide input on what they want to see happen.

The housing authority is planning for more resident involvement in crafting the action plan.

“It’s going to be important that residents who are not on this call get [the plan] in their hand,” Johnson said.

The safety committee next meets at 6 p.m. Dec. 8. The meetings are open to the public and residents are encouraged to join and provide input on safety measures. To participate, visit tinyurl.com/crhasafety. The meeting passcode is 181698.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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