Pogo Park and Richmond police win national award for community partnership
on October 6, 2014
Updated at 12:20 p.m. PST to show that Pogo Park’s next project is Harbour-8 Park, not Unity Park.
Local nonprofit organization Pogo Park and the Richmond Police Department have won the 2014 MetLife Foundation Community Police Partnership Award for their work transforming Elm Playlot public park.
The collaboration was one of 11 award winners out of more than 560 applicants nationwide.
Pogo Park members have worked since 2007 to revitalize parks, converting them from troubled and unused areas into vibrant playgrounds and community hubs. In 2008 they began working with the Richmond Police Department to transform the area around the Elm Playlot, which sits in what was a high-crime neighborhood surrounding 8th Street and Elm Avenue.
“The park wasn’t really used, except by people you don’t want using it,” said Ed Miller, Pogo Park’s development and communications director.
Drug dealing was a chronic problem in and near the park. Toody Maher, the founder and executive director of Pogo Park, crafted a plan to reclaim the space: Survey people in the neighborhood to identify specific problems, pin down solutions and find out what locals would like to see happen with the space.
One problem stood out: A suspected drug house right across from the park on 8th Street.
“Nothing was going to change unless that drug house was shut down,” Miller said.
Off-site meetings were organized between police and community members. Miller said this was done so community members could meet with police without the risk of being seen as snitches.
“People didn’t feel safe talking to the police, but now that has changed,” Miller said.
The meetings led to a series of successful drug busts, carried out in collaboration with the Contra Costa County Sherriff, the FBI and the ATF. The drug house was shut down and the work to transform the Elm Playlot continued.
Richmond police Capt. Mark Gagan said the department is proud of the project and what the community has accomplished with the Elm Playlot.
“To see the amount of community ownership and involvement that makes it the jewel that it is, is so unbelievably satisfying,” Gagan said.
Gagan noted that a sustained police presence and involvement is important to avoid the park “atrophying back to its original state.”
“We cannot say ‘Mission accomplished’ and stop being involved,” Gagan said.
Representatives from the MetLife Foundation will come to the Elm Playlot, in the heart of the city’s Iron Triangle community, to present the award to Maher and Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus.
A date for the ceremony has not been set.
Pogo Park will open its next revitalization project, Harbour-8 Park on the Richmond Greenway, at noon on Nov. 7.
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One small correction: Pogo Park’s next project, opening on November 7, is Harbour-8 Park on the Greenway, not Unity Park, which is still in the early planning stages.
Thank you for pointing it out. We’ve updated the article. –Richmond Confidential staff.