‘Building neighborhoods block by block’

On the second Monday of each month, representatives from many of the city’s 30-plus neighborhood associations come together.

The Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council convenes at the Community Services Building on 25th Street, a collection of the most active and assertive members of the cities assorted neighborhood groups.

Sometimes they squabble. Often they ask pointed questions, especially of the city leaders who come to give presentations. Virtually always they gather information to convey back to their respective neighborhoods.

“It’s really an important meeting to attend,” said Peter Minkwitz, president of the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council, who was one of about 25 neighborhood representatives to attend the Jan. 11 meeting. “A lot of important information gets shared.”

Officials from various city departments and elected officials regularly attend and brief neighborhood leaders.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, the succession of speakers included Police Chief Chris Magnus, City Planner Lamont Thompson, and Mayor’s Office representative Marilyn Langlois.

The representatives themselves, hailing from throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods, also serve as founts of wisdom about their own mini-communities. They share local news and rumors.

The council’s motto is “Building neighborhoods block by block.”

Among the news circulating within the meeting was that the city, in an effort to shore up dwindling public safety funding, may consider a parcel tax this year.

As with most of the rumors, the news raised eyebrows and sent pens into rapid scribbles. Residents vowed to take their inquiries back to their neighborhoods, and to city leaders.

Magnus delivered the longest presentation, a data-heavy jaunt through crime statistics, marijuana dispensaries, use of force policy, prostitution and the new recruits beefing up his department.  He said the city recently added at least five new sworn officers and three new dispatchers.

Magnus also touted new crime statistics that he said showed an 11 percent drop in crime in 2009 compared to 2008, which itself was a year that saw a double-digit percentage drop in crime from 2007.

Magnus acknowledged that total homicides spiked in 2009, but suggested that the killings were sparked by disparate motives, many of which are difficult to address by law enforcement.

“We are going to continue to look at ways that we can focus on that homicide rate although that’s extremely difficult because I’ve looked pretty carefully at the homicides that we had last year and the motivation behind them is so varied,” Magnus said. “It may be conventional wisdom that these are all gang related; that’s not true, it’s really not that simple at all.”

Magnus said some of the homicides stemmed from domestic violence and “personal beefs” that had no gang connection.

Community leaders also listened to various event announcements and perused advertisements, calls to action and schedules posted on a bulletin board.

Naomi Williams, a resident who serves as the council’s spokeswoman, rattled off a list of community announcements that included sign-ups for volunteers with National Night Out, a community police support event, and information about how to launch new neighborhood watch groups.

At each meeting, a certain neighborhood association representative is tasked with bringing food and drink, which are typically enjoyed during a mid-meeting break.

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