There’s a small block group in the South End of Tacoma that’s gone to great lengths to clean up their neighborhood.
They parked outside problem bars and glared at drug dealers, and reported them to police.
They approached drivers that pulled up to corners with prostitution problems, and asked what they were doing there.
They’re the Lincoln LAWGs (Lincoln Area Watch Group), and they mean business.
Renee Harris and her husband, Jason Harris, helped start the group in July 2005, and celebrated its 10th National Night Out celebration Tuesday.
The group’s turf spans roughly between Tacoma Avenue South and Pacific Avenue, from South 38th Street to South 48th Street.
“This is actually the best night ever,” Danicka “Danny” Leonard, 8, said at the LAWG’s National Night Out party. “I’ve been to other people’s parties, but I’ve never been to a party for lots and lots of families. There’s door prizes!”
She made new friends, she said, and especially liked the potato salad.
Meeting neighbors is a big part of National Night Out, which encourages people across the country to host block parties, where police and firefighters often stop by and introduce themselves as well. The LAWGs’ party was one of many across Pierce County on Tuesday night.
Drug problems, prostitution, vacant houses and panhandling were issues in the South End neighborhood a decade ago.
“We did not want to raise our kids in that,” Renee Harris said.
Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, a community liaison officer in the area when the block group started, sees something else when she drives around the neighborhood these days.
Handing out Police Department stickers and enjoying the party, she said, “I’m just impressed. Yards are all up-kept, the houses look nice, people are outside waving and smiling.”
She remembers the watch group used to stake out corners with prostitution issues, and talk to cars that would stop there, to deter possible crime.
“They would go out and drink coffee and say, ‘Hello, anything we can help you with today?’” Cool remembered. “All the little things combined to work.”
The neighbors also did patrols for about six months outside nearby bars where they said drug dealing was a problem.
“Literally sitting across the street watching people come and go from the bar and giving them the evil eye,” Renee Harris said. “It was terrible.”
They eventually supplied police with enough information that officers were able to do some special patrols in the area to take care of the problem, she said.
“It was probably not the wisest thing to do, but it worked, and it got us the information,” she said. “Sometimes you kind of have to resort to what you need to do.”
They’ve also addressed panhandling and graffiti, and they take part in citywide cleanups.
About 10 people attend their regular meetings, and roughly 100 are active on their Facebook page.
“When you form a block group, you become the eyes and ears of the neighborhood,” Renee Harris said.