In 1992, someone stole Vikki Martin’s bike out of her garage in the Claremont neighborhood.
“It ticked me off, so I started a crime watch,” she says.
That neighborhood crime watch eventually blossomed into the Ferguson Road Initiative, the crime-fighting, community-building organization in East Dallas that has become a national example of how to build a community.
Since the Ferguson Road Initiative was established in 1998, violent crime has dropped 70 percent, and overall crime has dropped about 40 percent in the area that now includes 20 neighborhood associations, including Little Forest Hills and Enclave at White Rock.
Crime reduction has accelerated especially since 2000, when the group received a Department of Justice grant for a Weed & Seed program.
“We’re way ahead of the rest of Dallas” on crime reduction, says Kerry Goodwin, the Ferguson Road Initiative’s Weed & Seed coordinator.
The federal Weed & Seed program “weeds” out crime and filth, and “seeds” beds of hope in the community.
“We identify crime trends and address them before they get out of hand,” Goodwin says. “We clean up trash in the schools, and make an effort to let schools know we’re there.”
Martin and the Ferguson Road Initiative have fought absentee landlords and the owners of sleazy, drug- and prostitute-infested motels in the area surrounding Buckner from Oates to Interstate 30, which is known as “Two Points”.
When Martin notices that a motel or apartment complex has become a boil on the community, she will go after it for code violations, and make sure that police are training their attention on it, using grant money to pay police overtime.
Crime has gone down in the Two Points area for the first time in 10 years, thanks to their efforts.
“Everyone has a right to live in a clean, safe place,” she says. “You shouldn’t have to be afraid to go out after dark. You shouldn’t be afraid to walk in the park.”
Martin has fought developers, who wanted to build apartments in the area, because the elementary schools are crowded — Truitt Elementary is at 200 percent capacity, for example — and the community cannot support new family populations.
Some developers have worked with the Ferguson Road Initiative in finding a compromise. One developer, who wanted to put in an upscale apartment complex, for example, wound up restricting the residential development to seniors only so that it wouldn’t stress the schools. And the complex is 100 percent leased.
Southwest Housing, the company that was at the center of a corruption scandal at City Hall a few years ago, bought the White Rock Town Homes on Ferguson Road just before that scandal broke. The property was abandoned, the windows were boarded up, and it looked like the property might be doomed to become a haven for unsavory activities. But then Wolcott Development bought the complex and invested in it.
“They were completely committed to our effort,” Martin says.
Now the Ferguson Road Initiative has its offices in the complex, which is home to 300 low-income families, mostly women and children.
Deputy Chief Tom Lawrence of the Dallas Northeast Police substation says he “would like to take credit” for crime reduction in the area, and officers have put in a lot of work there, but it’s really been the work of Martin and the community that has cleaned it up.
Improving the neighborhood really comes down to residents taking responsibility for their own neighborhoods, Martin says.
“You can’t have a police officer behind every stop sign,” Martin says. “But you can have residents who are vigilant.”
Martin recently won the “community motivator award” from the Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards for her success in rallying neighbors to get behind her cause.
She’s proud of the award, and she’s proud of the changes that the Ferguson Road Initiative has spawned. But there’s still work to do, and she wants everyone in the White Rock Lake area to know it. Individuals and businesses should donate and get involved, she says.
“We need their help,” she says. “We always look at the pretty side of the lake, and we’re not paying attention to what’s happening on the other side.”
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