JAMES CITY — More than 100 Grove neighbors turned out Monday night for a community meeting focused on crime prevention.
Several James City police officers met with the crowd at Little Zion Baptist Church, where it was standing room only during the hour-long meeting. The get together was an opportunity for police to hear concerns and open the lines of communication with residents.
"I'm so encouraged by just the numbers," said Danielle Wynn, manager of Windy Hill Mobile Home Park. "It speaks a lot to the general concern and willingness of the community to get involved."
Among those present were acting Police Chief Maj. Brad Rinehimer, Williamsburg-James City Commonwealth's Attorney Nate Green and John McGlennon, Roberts District representative on the James City Board of Supervisors.
Officer Ian DeModna said there have been reports in the area of gang activity, anonymous reports of weapons and violence, instances of intimidation or harassment and, as a result, neighbors who are afraid to assist police. Neighbors were encouraged to take an active role in preventing crime in Grove by speaking up.
"We need people who are strong enough to stand up and be witnesses," said Officer Kelly Saponaro. "We can't do it without you."
DeModna said the police department plans to have targeted patrols in the area, but stressed that forging a partnership with the Grove community will go a long way toward combating crime. He noted that sharing resources and information, including observations of what's happening on the streets, reporting crimes and other suspicious activity, and redefining the community's relationship with law enforcement are key pieces of that effort.
Conversation Monday night covered numerous topics, including illegal dumping, vandalism, gang activity, and cyber bullying. A sign-up sheet for a neighborhood watch circulated in the crowd.
Deena Walls, assistant director of Grove Christian Outreach Center, expressed concern that the Abram Frink Jr. Community Center is closed during the day, leaving kids without a place to congregate after school. DeModna said the lack of daytime hours is on the county's radar.
One woman pushed for more intervention at the school level as a prevention strategy. DeModna, a school resource officer at Jamestown High School, said much of his job is counseling students. He added that criminal charges are a last resort.
Wynn asked when police get involved in cyber bullying since it usually occurs outside of school. Green said officers will get involved in an incident when they are informed of it, and will step in before issues like cyber bullying become a full-fledged crime.
"If we only address things when it reaches the criminal level, then it's gotten too far," he said.
Police also urged parents to make sure they have their children's social media passwords and regularly monitor online activity.
One attendee said not all officers are as approachable as those present at the meeting. Rinehimer assured the man that if residents felt disrespected during an interaction with police it would be addressed.
Overall, those in attendance seemed optimistic about building what DeModna called an alliance.
"We want them to extend the olive branch and build the trust," said Anthony Clemons, who was raised in Grove. "We as a community have to reciprocate."