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Bay Terraces: Symptoms of a greater problem

Graffiti marks a wall on Paradise Valley Road near South Meadowbrook Drive in Bay Terraces. Violent crimes decreased in this census block group to zero in 2017, from 9 in 2013. But just a block away, violent crime was up to 11 from 2 in the same period.
Graffiti marks a wall on Paradise Valley Road near South Meadowbrook Drive in Bay Terraces. Violent crimes decreased in this census block group to zero in 2017, from 9 in 2013. But just a block away, violent crime was up to 11 from 2 in the same period. ((Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune))

In a video on YouTube, over a soundtrack of violin and piano, residents talk glowingly of life at the Meadowbrook Apartments, a sprawling, block-long complex off South Meadowbrook Road in Bay Terraces.

The complex, once plagued by drugs sales and gang violence, is much better now, they say. New management fixed up apartments and changed the character of the complex.

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Still, this section of Bay Terraces that includes blocks of single family homes recorded the greatest percentage increase in violent crimes during the five-year period reviewed by the Union-Tribune.

The census block, from Paradise Valley Road to just south of Shadyglade Lane along South Meadowbrook Drive saw violent crime reports increase 450 percent — from two violent crimes in 2013 to 11 in 2017. For the entire five-year period, there were 51 reported violent crimes — about one every five weeks.

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More than half of reports came from areas in and around the complex. Aggravated assaults accounted for 88 percent of all reported crimes.

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The story of this section of Bay Terraces, adjacent to the Skyline neighborhood, is not easily captured. Over the past decade, community members have worked to better relations with police and actively assert control over their neighborhood. There is also a strong sense that the area, as well as most of southeastern San Diego, has been the target of overly-aggressive policing in previous years that targeted mostly young black men, and that highlighting one area where violent crime rose could tarnish communities and discount years of grassroots work that have reduced crime and violence.

Longtime community advocate Barry Pollard, who once ran for City Council and runs the Urban Collaborative nonprofit community organization, called for a more targeted police approach.

"Violent crimes are the symptoms, not the problem," he said. "Rather than bringing in the SWAT units in force, it would be nice if they brought in services from the county and the city."

Police who work in the area say their approach has changed and now emphasizes working with the community.

"This is a community that historically has had some apprehension working with police," said Lt. Ben Kelso. "We work hard with the community to take their insight and listen to their concerns."

And he said the apartment complex has improved. "I believe the Meadowbrook has significantly changed for the better. Does that mean it is ideal and perfect? No. But, we don't go there as often as we used to."

The areas immediately surrounding that Bay Terraces census block tell a different story and show how localized these crime hot spots can be. A zone on the other side of Meadowbrook Road saw violent crime drop from 9 in 2013 to zero in 2017, though there were more than 40 violent crimes there over the five-year period.

Cathlean Ramsey lives in that low-crime zone. For years she worked tirelessly to lessen violence in her neighborhood. She hosted a sit-down dinner with gang members years ago, encouraged neighbors to put up dusk-to-dawn lights at their homes, made a point of talking to people on the street outside her house. Now, residents gather at monthly dinner meetings to discuss issues and stay connected.

She said the area has markedly improved and should no longer be stigmatized by the apartment complex.

"It's not at all the way it used to be," Ramsey said. "You can walk through there now at any time of the day. I don't like being grouped in when you say crime is increased 450 percent. I don't want to be a part of that."

Pollard said the hot spots should serve as an opportunity for city and county officials to tackle larger issues of resources for the area, like mental health services and health clinics.

"Those are the kinds of services the county can bring in. Also, look at the road conditions, the landscaping, the graffiti ," he said. "They need to focus their energies on finding the cause of those hot spots, and focus resources on that."

Nisleit, the San Diego police chief, said additional resources — aside from police — can help.

"I do think that plays a part and I know some of our elected officials have been really stressing that," he said. "And I think that plays a role, or plays a part in crime. I think it would be foolish for anyone to say it doesn't."

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