By John Larson
People who live and work in South Tacoma and the East Side were recognized for their efforts to improve their neighborhoods at Birney Elementary School on May 30. The occasion was the eighth annual Safe Streets Sector 3 and 4 Neighborhood Watch Groups Partnership Appreciations Potluck Dinner.
The event began with a great spread of food, such as homemade chili and other items donated by local businesses. These included Vien Dong restaurant, Hong Kong restaurant, Lucky Supermarkets and the Fred Meyer store located a few blocks away at Pacific Avenue and South 72nd Street.
Darren Pen, a longtime organizer with Safe Streets, began by thanking residents who are involved in block watch groups. “I am honored to work side by side with you,” he remarked.
Pen mentioned the work done by a new group formed in the past year. He then asked the audience to think of things that can be done to address crime in their neighborhoods. He presented several, based on his years of experience. Call 911 if a dangerous situation is in progress. Recruit others to join watch groups. Set goals and make plans to achieve them. Motivate other people into action. Change undesirable situations. And, most importantly, partner with other people and organizations.
Safe Streets Executive Director Priscilla Lisicich acknowledged the efforts of the residents. “You are such an inspiration to me,” she declared. “You are vigilant about safety in your community.”
She said her organization currently has an annual budget of $1.2 million. That got a boost from a recent gala Safe Streets held, which raised more than $160,000. This was the first such event the organization has held, done to recognize its founding 30 years ago. Two other organizations had similar events scheduled on the same day. Both decided to cancel theirs, in order to not compete.
The next speaker was Tacoma City Councilmember Conor McCarthy. He acknowledged the crime problems in South Tacoma and the East Side. McCarthy said in the 12 years that he, his wife and children have lived in their house, the worst situation they have faced was some neighborhood kids doing some minor damage to the property. Other than that, he said his part of town is a safe place to live and play. “Every neighborhood in Tacoma should be like that.”
He urged the neighbors to work with the community liaison officers of Tacoma Police Department and code enforcers. McCarthy, who is also on the Safe Streets board, said he feels the city government lost some of the connection it had with the organization.
Awards were presented to Ronel J. Balabat, principal of Birney and code compliance officers Brad Dorman and Ken Ketter. Dwayne Christopher, who was elected last years as a Tacoma Municipal Court Judge, presented the next award to community liaison officer Michael Sbory. Fellow CLO Jason Mills was also recognized. The Fred Meyer store was recognized as a business that is making a difference. Store Manager Kevin Zoch and Asset Protection Manager Rebecca Leeper accepted the award. They noted there have been crime problems on the property, but efforts have been made to address them. This includes hiring off-duty police officers to work security. The other recipients were Lisa Werner, a route supervisor with the city’s Solid Waste Division, Jennifer Kammerzell, principal engineer with the city, South Sound 911 Executive Director Andrew Neiditz and Lieutenant Corey Darlington with TPD.