With one simple action yesterday, Ottawa housing residents reclaimed their right to safe streets.
West-end residents unveiled the first Neighbourhood Watch sign on Ramsey Street, in what is a first for an Ottawa Community Housing centre.
“It’s a real sign when a community says we want Neighbourhood Watch,” said police Chief Vern White. “It means they want differences to occur.”
White said he’s seen a shift in residents’ attitudes since the program was implemented in July. “I call it taking back the streets. It sounds easy, but it’s about identifying the issue and saying we’re not going to put up with being fearful of our streets.”
Bayshore Community Outreach officer, Const. Maria Keen, said it’s difficult to establish watches in social housing areas because the short-term nature of residents often fails to create a community bond.
In the Ramsey Street area, residents hail from more than 40 different countries and speak over 60 different languages, said Keen. Many come to Canada distrustful of police.
But since the program began, she’s noticed people’s attitudes towards police shift.
“People have learned it was okay to call police and give information, that was something that never used to happened here.”
Neighbourhood Watch organizer Ron McCooey said people had grown tired of being afraid to walk outside.
“A bunch of tenants got together and said enough is enough,” he said.
McCooey said he’s noticed a drop in the amount of crime in the area and a rise in residents’ comfort level.
Resident Paul Belair said the area improved last summer after police arrested gang members who set fire to a DuMaurier Avenue apartment in August.
“The community were the ones up in arms after that happened,” he said. “We did our jobs. At the end of the day it was the community who said. ‘That’s it.’”