The Old Orchard neighbors who gathered Monday night had a lot of questions and concerns.
Is crime up in their neighborhood? What do they do if they suspect drug activity down the street? Is the stabbing and rape of a woman an isolated incident?
The attack, after all, was what prompted the Old Orchard Block Watch neighborhood safety meeting at the Sanger branch library on Central Avenue.
The victim of that attack, who was standing in a corner at the front of the room, stepped in front, unscripted and unprovoked, of the nearly 100 people who attended.
“It was me,” the woman said. She assured her neighbors the entire thing happened quickly and that she was OK. Then she commended the Toledo police for their response and their handling of the investigation, which remains unsolved.
The head of the sex crimes unit, she said, came to her home on a Sunday to make sure she was all right.
She was thankful.
Her neighbors applauded her bravery.
But that’s not the only reason they gathered. They had questions — a lot of them — for police Chief Mike Navarre, who answered every question that was asked at a nearly two-hour-long meeting.
Crime levels in Old Orchard, he said, are about normal, but he was unable to quantify what normal means, exactly.
“Old Orchard generally does not have a lot of crime,” the chief said. “It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood.”
Toledo Councilman Tom Waniewski said, before the meeting, he wanted a solid assessment of neighborhood crime and for ideas on what can be done to make the area safer for the residents.
“I’ve just kind of had it,” he said prior to the meeting. “I don’t know what to do. That’s why I’m hoping he can say ‘We are going to do this,’ ‘We might try this.’ I’m not asking him to roll out any proprietary game plan. … I’ve asked for the bike patrol. I’ve asked for directed patrol.”
One strategy, a woman in attendance suggested, was to hire a private security company to patrol the streets, as has been done in the Old West End and was discussed at a meeting last week in South Toledo.
Mr. Waniewski and Matt Harrison, who leads Blockwatch in the southern Old Orchard quadrant, said they would look into the positives and negatives, and potential cost, of a private security firm.
A common theme throughout the meeting was what residents could do to be proactive in protecting their property and to be vigilant in keeping the area safe.
“When in doubt, call 911,” Chief Navarre stressed.
He told neighbors to use outdoor lighting – what he has at his home. Unfortunately, not in time to keep a thief from breaking into his car and stealing his change, but, he said, light is a great deterrent for would-be criminals.
Mr. Waniewski proposed a number of ideas – could the Lucas County Sheriff help patrol the area? What about University of Toledo police?
Both are possible, the chief said, but, at the same time, notprobable. The sheriff’s office is working with fewer and fewer deputies, as is University of Toledo Police Department. Toledo police, he told the residents, doesn’t have enough manpower.
The Toledo Police Department currently has about 550 sworn officers – the department needs more than 600. By the time the next police class graduates, the department will be operating close to 500, a far cry from the 740 officer the department had when Chief Navarre became top cop more than 13 years ago.
What about pulling departments from other cities to help patrol Toledo, Mr. Waniewski asked.
“I support regionalization,” Chief Navarre said. “We’ve been doing it for years with fire and EMS, but you can’t get [regional municipalities] to do it with police. I fully support a metropolitan police department.
“Regionalization is the future,” he added, noting that cities like Louisville and Indianapolis have had great success with collaborative law enforcement.
But until those things can happen, until a police class graduates in April and another is hired immediately after, the chief said he needs residents to be patient. It will get better, he said.
But still, residents want to make sure their streets are quiet and safe. They don’t want to feel uncomfortable in a neighborhood they love so much and take pride in.
“You’re being held hostage in your own home,” Mr. Waniewski said. “And I don’t like to hear that. We have to wait another year for another police class to be hired. What do we do in the interim?”
The chief did say that, of the 50 officers who start the police academy to become Toledo officers in November, 10 of them already have Ohio Peace Officer certification, which is required. Those individuals are, for example, a Wood County deputy, a Washington Township officer. They will, pending that they all pass their physical, psychological, and background tests, take an abbreviated academy to learn the policies and procedures of the department, and be on the streets earlier to help.
Could residents patrol the streets? attendees asked. It was done there in the past and other neighborhoods have had success with similar programs.
“I don’t encourage you to go out on patrols and put yourself in harm’s way,” Chief Navarre said, while acknowledging that it has worked elsewhere.
Above all, the chief said, use common sense when you’re out – know your surroundings. If something looks suspicious, call the police.
“Never be afraid to call 911,” he said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: