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Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Houston Chronicle
Tammy Gooden got a plate of barbecue and watched the children play in the bounce house.
As a resident of the Haverstock Hills apartment complex, Gooden knows the long struggle there with crime and gang violence.
But the Saturday resource fair — with free food and music, vaccinations, county and organization leaders — could go a long way in helping keep youth out of trouble, she said.
“We need more of this for the kids to have something to do,” she said.
It was also an opportunity for residents to mingle with law enforcement following a March shooting that left two people dead and four others injured, including former America’s Next Top Model contestant Brandy Rusher.
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“Our job is not just to prosecute and not just to put people in jail,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told the residents. “We are here to work with you, to make you safer. We work for you.”
Her office hosted the resource fair in collaboration with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Harris County Judge and the apartment’s management.
“We feel that folks will participate more in solving their own crime problems if we help them solve other problems, health issues, insurance,” Ogg told the media. “And food and music is always fun.”
This isn’t the first time Ogg or previous district attorneys have worked to curb crime at Haverstock Hills. In 2010, the apartment complex was the target of Harris County’s first-ever gang injunction after law enforcement responded to more than 3,000 calls at the property in a single year. The legal move banned dozens of suspected gang members from a 57-acre zone that included the complex.
A second injunction approved in 2014 identified additional gang members and banned them from Haverstock Hills and a larger surrounding safety zone encompassing 217 acres.
Ogg drafted the 2010 injunction as an attorney for then-DA Pat Lykos.
A recent Chronicle analysis of crime data found that the complex is somewhat safer than it was seven years ago, with a drop in calls to the sheriff’s office for burglaries, robberies and disturbances involving weapons. Yet calls for assaults began to rise after 2014, despite an initial dip.
“I know that the attention of law enforcement after the injunction succeeded,” Ogg said. “Our attention ebbed, and often that’s what happens with law enforcement. … So I’ve refocused our office’s attention on Haverstock, the largest public housing complex in Harris County.”
The District Attorney’s Office isn’t alone in providing services to the community. Rainbow Housing Assistant Corp. has been helping residents since the late 2000s, providing youth recreational activities, adult computer skills, job placement assistance and other programs. It holds fairs similar to Saturday’s event every quarter.
Sgt. Mark Schmidt with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit stressed the importance of providing services to children.
“I don’t want the gangsters here influencing the kids that live here,” he said.
David Burkley, national director of resident services for Rainbow, said the shooting in March has brought more interest from organizations outside of Haverstock Hills.
“It’s gotten more people involved, and that’s always a positive thing,” he said.
Joshua Allen Sr., the owner of J. Allen Management Co. that manages Haverstock Hills, said security measures have been enhanced since the March shooting. Existing outdoor lights were replaced with LEDs. Additional lighting and cameras were also installed.
The front gate used to enter the complex has become more heavy duty, and the gate on the exit side will become sturdier, too. There are also plans to add spikes along the exit to pop tires of vehicles trying to come in the out.
“We can never make a totally secure environment,” he said, “but there’s always room for improvement.”
However, he said security enhancements will only go so far. Residents also need to be involved.
Sturdier gates won’t prevent crime if residents willingly bring those criminals into the community.
Gooden, who has lived at the complex for five years, said there’s been a lot of fear since the shooting. But she’s optimistic that events like Saturday’s resource fair can improve the community. It also provides an opportunity for residents to mingle with law enforcement and feel safe giving tips without being labeled a snitch.
Her biggest wish, however, is for law enforcement officers to walk around the complex more at night. Off-duty deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are paid by the complex to provide security.
“They’re in here, but they don’t walk,” she said.
Cynthia Stafford, who has lived in the complex for about 24 years, would also like to see more cops. Without an increase in security officers, she doesn’t think anything will change.
“I think it’s going to stay the same,” she said.
The apartment complex’s management company is in negotiations to get additional off-duty cops patrolling the complex. And Schmidt added that on-duty officers often patrol the area just to check in.
Resident Tommy Dirden is somewhat optimistic about the complex’s future. When he moved there 11 years ago, parents didn’t let their kids play outside. Now, they do.
There is still violence, he said, and additional security is needed. But he’s optimistic that stricter controls on who enters the complex could help.
“I feel like it’s going to change some,” he said. “Not a whole lot, but some.”
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