Residents, police team up TAKING BACK A NEIGHBORHOOD


Barely a month after moving into her small, two-bedroom town home in Northbrooke Township, Bernice Voss started thinking about moving out.

Used hypodermic needles, burnt bottle caps and glassine bags -- refuse of the drug world -- littered the umbrella table on her patio. She couldn't even enjoy a morning cup of coffee without having to first sweep the place clean.

That was two years ago. Then, one evening last fall, a police raid gave the people of Northbrooke a chance to rescue their community. Now, instead of combating drug dealing, residents are tackling simpler problems such as cars blocking a trash bin.

"We took back our community," said Ms. Charlee Burrows, who haslived in the township for eight years. "It was tough to do, but we are determined to keep it."

Ms. Voss has become so enamored of the "new" Northbrooke that she has recommended it to friends and relatives.

"This place is 80 percent improved since I moved here," she said. "I'm glad I stuck it out."

Today the community will celebrate with a summer picnic on the basketball court and playground once ruled by drug dealers. Children will perform dances and family relay teams will compete.

Located just north of the city-county line at Perring Parkway, Northbrooke Township is a 27-year-old collection of 702 rental units, most occupied by families. Two-bedroom apartment buildings are interspersed between long lines of cookie cutter, two-room-deep town houses.

Initially, Ms. Voss had been excited about her move into Northbrooke. But soon she saw signs of trouble. Young men gathered at the basketball court and playground across the street from her home. They stood around the half-sized court, desultorily bouncing a basketball, waiting for the cars that inevitably pulled up. Brief conversations with the drivers followed. Then, a kid would jump on a bike, ride away, return and complete the transaction.

Once in awhile, the kids fired a lazy shot at the basket, but mostly they waited for the cars that kept coming back. The noise from thisopen air-drug market was constant.

"My biggest fear was one day either myself or my [then] 10-year-old daughter would step out onto the patio and be caught in a cross-fire because a drug deal went bad," she said. "I must have called the 911 emergency phone number four or five times a day because of the drug activity."

She also called Kathie Dzbinski, Northbrooke's resident manager. Mrs. Dzbinski encouraged her to keep calling 911. She also offered to move Ms. Voss to another unit. But Ms. Voss was determined to stay.

"I wasn't going to let them drive me away from my home," she said.

She wasn't alone in her determination. Other residents started complaining to the police, as did Mrs.Dzbinski. Police started a five-month undercover narcotics investigation. Finally, in the early evening hours of Oct. 3, Northbrooke's transformation began.

Police swept into the township and arrested 11 people on warrants. Six houses were raided. For Ms. Voss, it was a wonderful day.

"I was coming home from work and I saw all the police cars and I just started yelling with joy," she said. "It was a great feeling. That night it was so quiet around here it was eerie."

Northbrooke's managers evicted residents who were arrested as part of the raid. Police from the Area 2 Cope Unit, Community Oriented Police Enforcement, made a follow-up visit.

"We wanted to see how the residents felt about the raids and what the community and the police could do to combat drug activity in the future," said Officer Bruce Paquin.

Area lighting in the development was improved, an anti-drug hot line was established and block captains were recruited to head a block watch program. Jacqueline Hugee, then a new resident, was one of those caught up in the new spirit that ran through Northbrooke. She became a block captain.

"I wanted to be part of making a change in this community," said Ms. Hugee, noting that the most dramatic change has been with Northbrooke's youths.

"Before, the kids wouldn't show you any respect," she said. "Now, if I have to yell at them for something, it's 'Yes, Miss Jackie. You got it Miss Jackie.' "

Jack Wilson, principal of Hillendale Elementary School, organized a Boy Scout troop for the young boys. The Scouts help distribute community flyers, plants, flowers and shrubs to spruce up the development.

"The Scouts also keep the pressure on their peers not to get involved in drug activity," said Mrs. Dzbinski.

When A. and G. Management purchased the complex seven years ago, Mrs. Dzbinski said, the managers had to overcome the residents' distrust, the attitude that asked, "What are you going to do for me?"

"Now, especially since the drug raid, the attitude is 'What can we do together?' " Mrs. Dzbinski said.

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