Security measures urged at Fair Oaks

Security measures urged at Fair Oaks

Residents want cameras, fencing to deter crime

DANVILLE — In the six years that Arthur Davis Jr. has lived in public housing at Mer Che Manor apartments, he has seen nonresidents loitering inside the multistory building and on the grounds, causing problems, even selling drugs.

But the Danville Housing Authority installed security cameras earlier this year in the hallways on each floor of the apartment building at 723 Oak St., as well as in the lobby and other areas. Davis said it's better now, because the video cameras are deterring nonresidents from coming into the building or onto the property.

"I feel safer," said Davis, 65, who added that there are a lot of senior citizens who live in the building, and he's heard from many fellow residents who also feel safer.

The housing authority also put security cameras at Churchill Towers, 101 E. Seminary St., which is, like Mer Che, a multistory apartment building with several residences on each floor that are accessible only through a main entrance.

Greg Hilleary, executive director of the housing authority, and Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason both agree that the cameras have cut down on the police calls at both buildings.

Community members are calling for the same to be done at the Fair Oaks public housing complex at 1607 Clyman Lane, where the majority of the city's public housing is located. Fair Oaks is more than 300 townhouse-style apartments grouped together in rows that cover most of a 40-acre property.

Thomas Miller, pastor at New Life Church of Faith, 1419 N. Bowman Ave., said he and other ministers in the city have concerns about safety for residents and their children at Fair Oaks.

Earlier this year, Miller spearheaded some neighborhood marches against violence following a rash of shootings in the city, including a fatal July shooting of a 35-year-old Chicago man who was found on Fair Oaks property in a grassy area between the public housing complexes and Moore Street, a residential street immediately east of Fair Oaks that is all privately-owned residences or rental houses. The victim was not a resident of Fair Oaks, and, according to police and housing authority officials, was likely cutting between the Moore Street area and Fair Oaks apartments.

Following that rash of violence, which prompted the city to use overtime to put more police on the streets for several weeks, Miller attended housing authority board meetings to push for security cameras at Fair Oaks. Miller said there are 600 children who live in Fair Oaks, and 90 percent of the lease holders are single mothers. He said the security issue is not the residents but outside interference from people who don't live there.

"We definitely want protection for the residents of Fair Oaks as much as possible," he said.

Miller said he and other concerned citizens want the housing authority to pursue every possible funding for security cameras, even if the agency can only afford initially installing them in a portion of the sprawling complex.

"I think the cameras would be the best deterrent," he said.

Hilleary and Thomason both agree that cameras would be helpful in various ways, but Hilleary said the housing authority does not have additional dollars in its budget for cameras at Fair Oaks. He said it would likely be very expensive to buy and install enough cameras to cover the acreage in the entire complex, but Hilleary has asked a local business, which put cameras at Mer Che and Churchill, to give him a price quote for Fair Oaks. At Mer Che, 41 cameras were installed at a cost of $40,000, and the Fair Oaks complex would require at least three times that number, according to housing authority officials.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has grants for security, but those dollars are in high demand at housing authorities across the country. Hilleary said HUD has distributed money twice recently, and the Danville Housing Authority applied both times, but the number of agencies requesting the funds far surpassed the amount available. And Danville's request was not met.

Two agencies in Illinois were awarded the funding, including the Quincy Housing Authority, which will use its $242,500 to purchase and install a video camera surveillance system at the Indian Hills development, and the Pope County Housing Authority, which will also use its $175,000 to purchase and install video cameras and upgrade exterior lighting at three of its housing developments.

In addition to cameras, Hilleary also requested money for a fence around the border of the Fair Oaks grounds, including the east side of the property between Moore Street and Fair Oaks. There's so much pedestrian traffic between the two areas that paths are worn in the large grassy area. It was along one of those paths that the 35-year-old Chicago man was shot after dark in July. Gating the entire Fair Oaks community would mean only one way in and one way out. Miller said that would be the ideal place to put cameras that would monitor everyone coming and going. He said it also would eliminate the paths in the grassy area that currently provide an easy way to get into Fair Oaks undetected, especially at night.

But he still favors cameras first, then the fencing.

Pinnie Rowell, who has lived on Moore Street for many years, said it's not uncommon for people to cut between her house and her neighbors' house. She would like to see a fence between the two.

The housing authority has recently put up lighting in the grassy area, which also helps, according to Danville police Sgt. John Thompson, who heads the city's Problem Oriented Policing unit that focuses much of its time and efforts on the Fair Oaks area and surrounding neighborhood. Fair Oaks pays a portion of the salaries of the city's POP unit.

"A lit area is a whole lot easier to police than an unlit area," Thompson said.

He agreed that a lot of the problems on the public housing property are from people who don't live there. He said Moore Street is a problem area, although they're not seeing quite as much activity there this year as they have in the last two.

According to Danville police statistics, in 2011, there were 344 calls to police from Moore Street, which is a short city street less than a half mile long, including 15 for shots fired. In 2012, there were 291 calls to police on Moore Street, including 22 for shots fired. This year through September, there have been 105 calls to police on Moore, including two for shots fired.

Sgt. Thompson said the housing authority has always been proactive about trying to keep unauthorized people out of its properties, including the Fair Oaks complex. But Thompson said that's more difficult when there's no fence impeding access on a big portion of the north end and east end of the Fair Oaks property. He said a fence would force foot traffic away from the grassy area and onto Fairchild Street and the sidewalk along Fairchild.

"It's just easier to monitor the area when people are using sidewalks," Thompson said.

Thompson said video cameras also would be a great help not only as a deterrent but in solving crimes.

"They are invaluable when they actually catch what happens," Thompson said.

Miller said cameras can be helpful for that reason, because police are not going to get a lot of information about crimes from Fair Oaks residents who fear for their own safety.

Thompson said cameras would deter some illegal activity if people know they could get caught on tape.

"Right now everything helps. Everything is a process. The more steps we take to beef up the cameras, beef up the lighting and improve the environment and make it more secure, the better a place it will be."

Calls for Service to Danville Housing Authority properties

The following shows the total number of calls to Danville police each year, the number of those calls that come from Danville Housing Authority's public housing properties, which are the Fair Oaks, Mer Che, Beeler Terrace and Churchill apartment complexes, and what percentage of the total calls come from DHA properties. And last is a break down of certain types of calls for police on public housing properties.

Year Total calls in city Calls to DHA properties Percentage of total calls
2009 41,557 2,345 5.7 percent
2010 41,567 2,581 6.2 percent
2011 39,213 3,164 8.1 percent
2012 40,824 3,126 7.7 percent
Certain types of calls to Danville Housing Authority properties
Year Traffic stops Shots fired Person with a gun
2009 345 20 27
2010 314 16 23
2011 370 51 42
2012 370 69 40

Source: Danville police

Police Calls to Moore Street

Moore Street is a residential area with single-family homes, some rental and some privately-owned, that borders the east side of the Fair Oaks public housing complex. The following shows the number of certain types of police calls to Moore Street for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Type of call 2011 2012 2013*
Battery 8 1 0
Burglaries 12 6 0
Civil disturbances 15 9 3
Domestic disturbances 41 21 11
Excessive noise 45 45 13
Fight in progress 11 12 1
Juvenile problem 9 10 1
Person with gun 3 8 2
Shots fired 15 22 2
Suspicious person 19 15 10
Suspicious vehicle 5 5 1
Traffic stops 41 38 27
Total calls (includes all types of calls, which is more than what’s listed above) 344 291 105*

*January through mid-September 2013

Source: Danville police