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Santa Barbara’s Eastside Mobilizing Neighborhood Watch in Effort to Curb Crime

Milpas Community Association takes the lead in helping residents form a united front to improve safety in the area

It’s only about eight blocks on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside, but residents of the tiny area sent a big message Tuesday night while meeting at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The group is mobilizing to begin a Neighborhood Watch in the area bounded by Cacique, Voluntario, Punta Gorda and Salinas streets in an effort to curb crime.

Behind the effort is Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Milpas Community Association, and the Neighborhood Watch is one of several efforts the group is making to improve safety for Milpas Corridor residents.

After three murders occurred in her west downtown neighborhood in the winter of 2008-09, Byrne and about eight other women organized. They began walking their dogs in a group every night around a 10-block area. After a week of the walks, things were noticeably quieter.

“Nobody wants to be doing anything where it’s a very watched neighborhood. ... It turned our neighborhood around,” she told the group Tuesday night. “I want the same experience for you.”

The specific area at the center of the discussion has been tarnished by gang activity for years. One of the most visible incidents occurred last October when store clerk George Ied was beaten on Punta Gorda while working home from his job. Ied had no gang affiliations and died after being hospitalized for his injuries. Authorities arrested four suspects, all of whom have gang affiliations and that case will most likely be going to trial this fall.

Fear of retaliation was touched on multiple times throughout the meeting, and Byrne asked members of the media not to shoot any pictures of the faces of those at the meeting.

One resident of the area, who asked that her name and street not be used, says she’s been retaliated against multiples times for calling the police when reporting gang activity. She also said, however, that nothing will change in the area unless people participate in the Neighborhood Watch and use it as a chance to reclaim safety in the area.

“People have looked the other way for too long,” she said.

Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Milpas Community Association, is leading the effort to form a Neighborhood Watch on Santa Barbara's Lower Eastside.
Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Milpas Community Association, is leading the effort to form a Neighborhood Watch on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The Milpas Community Association has already been working with the Santa Barbara Police Department’s gang suppression team, so residents may notice more patrol in the area, Bryne said. Officer Adrian Gutierrez, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, is the only beat coordinator left at the Police Department. Gutierrez grew up on the Eastside, still lives there today and spoke about the importance of Neighborhood Watches.

“You’re the eyes and ears for the police, and you’re also going to be there for each other in the community,” he said.

Gutierrez also brought statistics to share with the group. On the 1200 block of Cacique, the Police Department has received 183 calls for service. “That’s just for that block,” he said. But while looking at the calls, Gutierrez said officers were sent out as a result of the calls to check the premises.

That’s when the importance of placing a call to the police becomes paramount, he said.

“People need to step up. ... If it looks suspicious to you, call,” he said, adding that for nonemergencies, residents are urged to call dispatch at 805.897.2410, and 9-1-1 for emergencies.

The Pennywise Market used to be a heavy gang hang out area, Gutierrez said, “but people got tired of it” and the calls to the station started flooding in. The police responded so many times to the area that gang members moved on and it’s been less of a problem since, he said.

Going forward, the Milpas Community Association is purchasing Neighborhood Watch signs to post on all of the affected blocks, and neighborhood cells will continue to organize. The group also plans to host a neighborhood cleanup day from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 10. Click here to volunteer or for more information about the Neighborhood Watch effort.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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