Crime, Fear and the Neighborhood

The home invasions on the West Side have gotten our attention.  As we reported previously, a series of these in the Brooks-Sunset-Summit-Spring area apparently began as early as May 2009 but received little public attention.  They also conflicted with the city’s soothing message that residents shouldn’t be concerned about crime in the face of police cuts.  But after quoted A2Politico about contradictions between this message and FBI statistics, and then reported on FBI and sheriff’s crime statistics showing increases in crime between 2007 and 2008, the subject got to be very current, and a second community meeting was scheduled for this coming Saturday at Miller Manor.  It was rumored that both the mayor and the police chief would be there.  Meanwhile, a neighborhood email listserv was set up so that we could exchange observations and warnings about suspicious behavior.

But things got confused.  First, the police notice about the second meeting was sent out only to block captains (from the neighborhood watch system, which does not have consistent coverage).  Fortunately, several people forwarded that to the listserv and to other neighborhood group email lists.  As clamor grew and it became evident that Miller Manor (which has no onsite parking) would not be adequate for another large meeting (the first one, held on September 10 with relatively little notice, had more than 100 people), the meeting was rescheduled to the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main.  But what’s this?  Suddenly it was about the Summit-Spring area and supportive housing concerns.

First Ward Councilmember Sabra Briere, who attended the September 10 meeting and has been communicating with the neighborhood listserv about meeting changes, had an explanation.  It seems the Summit-Spring area (adjacent to Sunset-Brooks) had been asking for a community meeting. From CM Briere’s email:

The meeting that the Summit / Spring neighborhood wanted last August, to address their concerns about affordable / supportive housing and any relationship this might have to any crime in their neighborhood, was initially planned as a small meeting at Miller Manor.  This is clear, because Miller Manor doesn’t have a large meeting room.  The participants invited from an official side — other than the Police Department — included representatives from supportive housing providers, the homeless shelter, and service providers for those who live in either supportive housing or the shelter.

“Supportive housing” is a term of art meaning case-work and various services including mental health and substance abuse assistance are offered to tenants of (usually) group or multifamily housing. (Avalon Housing is a major provider.) By its nature it is expected that the tenants will be very low income and under various stresses.  Evidently the Summit-Spring neighbors had some concerns about the high incidence of such housing (including the homeless shelter) in and near their neighborhood.  Then the home invasion business brought in a whole new set of anxious neighbors with a slightly different concern.

But wait!  The meeting, finally moved to a new location and with the message beginning to filter through, had a flaw: it was scheduled for a major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  This was a direct affront and practical difficulty for many neighbors and also for some of the service providers who were supposed to be part of the presentation.  So with lots more legwork from CM Briere, the announcement finally came through today that the meeting is rescheduled.  And it’ll be on CTN!

So this shows what fear will do.  I’ve corresponded with lots of neighbors I never met.  Suddenly we are working cooperatively instead of just nodding politely on walking past.  But it has cast a shadow over our little island.  I’ve been locking my door just to go next door for a couple of minutes.  I’ve wondered whether I’ll be okay to take a shower during the daytime or to go to the garden in back.  (Our home invader rings the doorbell and then tries to get in if no one seems to be home.)  I suspect that our little piece of Ann Arbor will not be the same for quite a while.

Additional note: the Ann Arbor Police have tried creatively to come up with a name to describe our rather amorphous neighborhood.  “Sunset-Brooks” and “Spring-Summit” are only a few streets, after all.  Nothing as snazzy as “the Old West Side”, but “West Side” is not very descriptive.  The meeting as now announced is for “The Old Northwest Side Community Discussion.”

UPDATE:  The rising crime rate story has evidently gotten under the skin of the city authorities and their supporters.  A defense is being seen on blogs denying that there is a problem.  It is interesting in that context to read the opinion piece published September 18 by a retired police officer, in which he says we have a “perfect storm” on crime.

SECOND UPDATE: This story is continued in a second post.

Both the first and second neighborhood meetings held by the city with the police chief speaking were recorded and are available from the city website here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Neighborhoods

6 Comments on “Crime, Fear and the Neighborhood”

  1. I like the “New West Side”
    I live at corner of Miller Ave. and Brooks — have for 46 years — I’m glad I happened to see your Brooks meeting — perhaps I would be allowed to attend-
    Sincerely – Barbara E. O’Donnell

    • varmentrout Says:

      As I understand, the meeting is open to the public, though it will be mostly about “our” West Side area. Miller and Brooks is definitely in the neighborhood.

  2. Bob Needham Says:


    Is the neighborhood listserv open to anyone? If so, could you point us (me) to how to sign up? I am on the email list for the neighborhood association, but I know I’m missing out on some of this stuff …


    Bob Needham

    • varmentrout Says:

      Bob, I’ve emailed you with the address of the person who maintains it. I don’t want to put her email address on the blog.

  3. Nancy Gustafson Says:

    I never heard about any of the meetings until I saw the Oct 27 meeting on public access.
    If this is an ongoing communication forum, I would like to be added to the list. I live on Miller’s south side between Brooks and Gott.

    Is the “old Northwest Side” an official designation?

    • varmentrout Says:

      There is an email listserv that was set up for neighbors to send each other notice of suspicious activity, etc. It is limited to people in our neighborhood (you would qualify in my opinion) but I have hesitated to publish the contact information because I don’t want to expose the person to spam by publishing her personal email. I’ve sent her an email asking how to let people get added to the list.

      The “Old Northwest Side” is a joke, really. The police department began by calling these meetings for the “Old West Side”. A different neighborhood, of course. Someone apparently told them that no, it was the Northwest side, so we got this new name. It doesn’t have any official standing – yet.

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