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The goal of Saturday’s event is to put law-abiding people in the area back into a dominant role.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
As Roanoke police attempt to take drug offenders off the streets of a second neighborhood with their Drug Market Intervention program, they are adding a new element - one that focuses on bringing solid citizens back on to the streets.
Saturday, police will lead local religious groups in a prayer walk through the Melrose neighborhood, an area they say has experienced a 57 percent drop in crime since the beginning of the DMI initiative, including a 71 percent drop in violent crime.
Police have devoted extra officers to quash criminal elements in the targeted area, a stretch between 10th Street and Lafayette Boulevard Northwest, while placing an emphasis on rehabilitating the neighborhood. They believe a medley of Roanoke Valley churches can help the law-abiding residents of Melrose take steps toward becoming the dominant force in their neighborhood.
"Police are like an occupying force in DMI. There are lots of resources in the area right now. We have to start thinking about an exit strategy," said Lt. Rick Morrison, who oversees the program and the city's northwest quadrant. "If the community doesn't have a vested interest, it will go back to where it was."
Officers started the Melrose neighborhood's program in January by arresting suspected violent drug offenders and offering nonviolent offenders a chance at rehabilitation and freedom, giving the area the same treatment that showed positive results in the Hurt Park neighborhood last year.
Morrison said Melrose presents challenges and opportunities that the Hurt Park area did not. The Melrose DMI area is much larger and is in need of a revitalized housing and business base, he said.
In an effort to produce lasting improvement in a neighborhood that has been abandoned before, Morrison said, the Melrose DMI program includes a revitalization plan that police will continue to pursue after the department's increased daily presence in the DMI area has subsided.
"The area has been plagued," Morrison said. "Good folks sometimes feel that they've been forgotten about."
Over the long term, Morrison hopes to strengthen residents' roots - and create more active stakeholders - by turning abandoned or rented houses into homes occupied by the families that own them.
To start with, he is looking to engage current residents through the numerous churches in the area. At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, police and members of the valley's faith-based community will meet at Melrose Park and orchestrate a prayer walk through the neighborhood.
Morrison began planning the walk by calling on pastors from around the Roanoke Valley for help. He met with a group of them in May and organized the walk.
City councilman Sherman Lea, who also attended the meetings, has been working to rally Melrose-area churches to take part in the walk and future DMI efforts.
"This is good for our community, church leaders showing the way," Lea said. "I feel the lord is pleased with this effort."
Churches from outside the neighborhood, including Botetourt County's Rainbow Forest Baptist Church, volunteered to step into the Melrose area and work to re-energize some of the neighborhood church programs.
"A lot of churches have very senior populations," Morrison said. "There's a lack of activity for kids."
He said that dearth of stimulation often leads to mischief when school lets out for the summer.
Saturday's walk, which will include a delegation from Rainbow Forest, is an opportunity for the church to begin building relationships in Melrose. Children's pastor Lane Hasson said the church is still working to connect with Melrose churches but plans to host a children's program at the Eureka Park Recreation Center - on the cusp of the DMI area - each Tuesday beginning in September.
"And with that, what we're really praying for is Melrose community churches to join us at Eureka Park so they can build relationships with those local kids and their families," he said.
The idea sprouted from Morrison's May meeting with the pastors, where an emphasis was placed on bringing services and positive activity into the neighborhood instead of transporting interested residents to outside churches.
"It's great they go get them, but the longer-term goal is to create services within the neighborhood," Morrison said during the meeting. "We need to establish resources in Northwest Roanoke."
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