It takes an entire community to fight crime

June 15, 2014 

A long-suffering East Bradenton neighborhood must still be rejoicing over the arrests of six suspects connected to a brutal crime ring blamed for nine murders, drug trafficking, kidnapping and robberies in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Those arrests by local and federal law enforcement agencies, announced with fanfare on June 5, should help ease the fear pervading the community surrounding the 13th AV Dream Center.

Those fears reached a flash point after the August 2013 shooting death of Brenton Coleman Jr. in front of several hundred children and adults gathered at the center for a Pee-Wee team football practice.

That horrific crime galvanized the community and prompted the Dream Center to launch a neighborhood unity program, called the Manatee Metro Action Plan.

One of the essential ingredients to successful crime fighting is information from witnesses and others who have details about law-breakers.

A key roadblock to public cooperation has been mistrust of law enforcement. But the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Bradenton Police Department have been working to build bridges to neighborhood residents. Extra police patrols are boosting public confidence, too.

Last September, the Palmetto Police Department applauded the victims and witnesses to a drive-by shooting that injured two women. Their accounts led to the arrest of two suspects. That cooperation should continue.

During a two-week stretch last summer, Manatee County suffered through a spate of shootings -- five incidents that terrorized neighborhoods. The struggle against violence, gangs and drugs must include citizens with information, else authorities lack the evidence to convict and incarcerate criminals.

The next step for the Dream Center neighborhood is the establishment of a Crime Watch organization to unite the community behind a concerted effort to curb crime.

Celeste Evans, the mother of Joseph Evans, slain in a case of mistaken identity in 2010, hurried to the sheriff's office after the arrest announcement on June 5, putting sharp perspective on communicating information to authorities:

"The community needs to come together. Don't wait for it to hit home before you come forward."

Sage advice indeed.

Dream Center leads way

Credit the 13th AV Dream Center for establishing a broad strategy for improving the community after the Coleman homicide, not only through crime prevention but economic opportunity; education; health; mentoring and family values; ministry and evangelism; and social justice and equality.

Last weekend the center hosted a Community Awareness Family Funfest in partnership with the MCSO and BPD, as well as the City of Bradenton's Central Community Redevelopment Agency and Westside Funeral Home, to further the goals in the action plan. The Crime Watch idea surfaced then, too.

The value of a community center like 13th AV cannot be overstated, and once again cheers to its director, Patrick Carnegie, for leading the way on programs to unite neighbors.

Last September's establishment of the Real Men Movement is one outgrowth of the action plan, attracting about a hundred people to the initial meeting.

Mentoring young people and teaching them how to avoid street violence and make sound choices in life are at the heart of the movement -- as are building morals and respect.

A fully engaged community cannot be beaten. And unity is pivotal, as one Bradenton neighborhood intends to validate.

Another good crime report

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube delivered good news in his budget presentation to county commissioners last week, citing better funding with reducing crime -- a 16 percent drop in 2012, a 3 percent decrease in 2013 and a 7 percent reduction since Jan. 1.

Moving forward, residents who are committed to public safety and neighborhood improvements will help continue that downward trend.

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