STEELE CREEK -- The message from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to the audience at the annual Steele Creek Residents Association meeting Thursday night was fairly straightforward: We'll do our part, but we need you to do yours.
Particularly in the area of keeping children safe.
"It's going to take all of us to play a role," said officer Lisa Speas, leader of the Steele Creek Youth Network.
The Steele Creek Youth Network, founded in 2005 as God and Gangs, partners with faith institutions and community groups to target youth aged 11 to 18, offering alternatives to crime and gang membership. The program currently has more than 150 community partners and commonly offers events that draw up to 500 youth at a time.
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"The Steele Creek Youth Network is about passion, passion for working with young people that everybody else has given up on," Speas said.
Targeting "high-risk" middle and high schoolers to reduce and prevent youth violence, the youth network is the only one of its kind in the county and could become a model for more efforts countywide. Program funding now comes from community donations and volunteered time to keep the program going.
"She's going to get some help," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Rodney Monroe said of Speas.
Monroe and his department recently listed youth crime prevention and enforcement as one of seven main strategic goals, with hopes of pulling youth efforts similar to the Steele Creek program "under one umbrella" at the department level. Monroe also hopes to identify funding from the federal stimulus package in the form of grants to organizations and programs that partner with his department.
"There's a whole slew of organizations out there that have wonderful programs for our kids," said association president Karl Froelich.
As for law enforcement, Monroe plans to improve service in Steele Creek not by adding more officers, but by "right-sizing" the North and South divisions based on population and land area. By doing so, the Steele Creek division would shrink but would keep the same number of officers.
"We're not looking at splitting any communities," Monroe said.
Monroe does, however, plan to ask for more than 100 new officers for the department. Most of those would bring services currently in uptown, such as narcotics and detectives, to the patrol divisions.
"You need to have the personnel to fight these battles at the local level," Monroe said.
Monroe also discussed his continued campaign against "the fear of crime," saying community concerns are as important to police as the incidents reported. He also dismissed the notion that crime reporting changed under his watch, explaining a recent downturn in crime of 22.7 percent compared to January 2008.
"Crime has gone down," Monroe said. "When you go into an area with a specific focus, you can effect crime."
It's through partnerships like the Steele Creek Youth Network and other teamwork between the department and the community that helps, Monroe said.
Even meetings can help.
"I don't like sitting behind a desk," Monroe said. "I'm given two nights a week to come out by my wife, and I like to take advantage of those."