From the front door of their home on Sixth Street in the Pinckney Neighborhood, Melinda Toumi and her family have seen intoxicated drivers, fights, drug activity and a dead man on the sidewalk.
“It is a stressful environment,” said Toumi, vice president of the Pinckney Neighborhood Association and a resident for more than a decade.
Each time her family has had to call police, Toumi said, they’ve been pleased with the response. But a recent letter to the Journal-World written by a Pinckney resident expressed a different view, and that was the topic at a recent neighborhood association meeting.
Confronted by periodic episodes of crime, often involving suspicious people trespassing on property, Pinckney residents are considering the source of the incidents and how best to deal with them.
The letter writer, Kristen Renfro, expressed concern about crime in the neighborhood and near Burcham Park, where a man was stabbed by a friend at a campsite recently. Renfro declined to be interviewed for this story, but within the past year, she wrote, her vehicle and her husband’s have been broken into. On separate occasions, outside their home, Renfro observed a man holding a broken beer bottle while talking to himself and jumping in front of passing vehicles. She saw another man was lying on the sidewalk, shouting profanities and throwing his shoes.
At the neighborhood association’s meeting, Toumi said, many residents said they believed that the neighborhood doesn't have a police response problem so much as another challenge.
“I really feel like it’s a mental health issue,” Toumi said. “We really have a unique opportunity to address this.”
Toumi pointed to the health care services offered near the neighborhood at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The Lawrence Community Shelter used to be near downtown but has moved to the eastern edge of Lawrence. Some people with appointments at the hospital or mental health clinic have slept at Burcham Park on the eve of their visits, she said.
“As a community, we’re not sure how to address that,” Toumi said.
In response, the association has invited David Johnson, Bert Nash's chief executive officer, and both Lawrence police and Douglas County Emergency Communications staff to its April 19 meeting.
Pat Miller, the Pinckney Neighborhood Association’s president, said Bert Nash officials and neighborhood resource officers have attended meetings each year, but a meeting with both present would be a first. She said she hopes the meeting will produce new strategies for addressing residents’ concerns.
Johnson acknowledged receiving the invitation, saying that until now he hadn’t been informed of problems involving patients camping overnight ahead of appointments or trespassing in neighborhoods.
“I’m pleased our relationship is good enough that they reached out and asked instead of being concerned and not saying anything,” Johnson said.
Calling it in
According to crime data reported by Lawrence police, the most common offense committed in the area the past 10 years is simple assault or battery, which have occurred an average of 53 times a year from 2003 to 2012. (Data for 2013 is not yet available.) But these statistics only reflect criminal citations.
Kim Murphree, a Lawrence police spokeswoman, said police have not seen incidents increase or decrease in any particular neighborhood.