Port Acres residents tell concerns about crime to PAPD

Published 9:19 pm Monday, December 19, 2016

Some Port Acres residents got a chance to speak face to face with some Port Arthur Police officers about what can be done to stop thefts and burglaries in their community.

The encounter fell under District 4 Councilman Keith Richard’s monthly town hall meeting held Monday night at the Port Arthur Public Library. Chief Patrick Melvin, Maj. John Owens, head of the Criminal Investigations Division, Officer Michael Hebert with the Street Crimes Division along with Officers Eli Van Horn and Calvin Walker were on hand to field questions and present information.

Richard said the purpose of the meeting was to try and get the former neighborhood watch program started again in Port Acres and resolve complaints.

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He said there has been a number of break-ins in the community and he wanted input from residents.

Melvin said at the meeting it was his two-month anniversary as chief with the city. In addition to Criminal Investigations and Street Crimes, they were also joined by representatives with the Community Relations Division.

Melvin said the PAPD’s goal is to get officers who have recently been promoted back on patrol to share their knowledge with younger officers. For instance, Lam Nguyen was recently promoted to sergeant and Frank Ramirez to deputy chief who are back on patrol.

New officers will be sworn in on Jan. 6 and start with their field training officer immediately afterward. The next civil service exam will be held sometimes in February.

“We’re looking for great people to join the police department,” Melvin said. “We’ve restructured the department to best serve the community. We want to be very transparent and if you come to the police department and ask if you can meet with the police chief. We want to be accessible. We have a Facebook page and we want to tell our story.”

Owens said community policing is the lifeblood of the department and the officers’ jobs would be that much more difficult if not impossible to do without community policing.

Hebert said Port Acres had one of the most active neighborhood watch groups in the city before it disbanded. One attendee said they disbanded because those who have a CHL were told they couldn’t carry their legal firearms on patrol.

Hebert said a funding grant ran out and there was no funding for the group in addition to the “huge liability” of the residents carrying firearms.

He added that the PAPD doesn’t want to make any excuses, but Port Acres is a huge geographic area and they only have one officer patrolling because the department is shorthanded.

Another factor was years ago everyone in Port Acres knew their neighbors and that’s no longer the case. Some members in the watch group aged or deceased with no younger members to step up.

One of the goals is to get younger people involved in the neighborhood watch group.

Hebert said the crime in the community is driven by drugs.

Though there is no grant for the watch group, they could do small fundraisers.

He also recommended residents get drop cameras to monitor their property.

One woman said she placed a sign in her yard that read, “Nothing left to steal” after her home was ransacked six months ago.

Hebert said of all the burglaries reported in Port Acres many are never reported.

Richard asked what was the plan of action to do something. Hebert said police don’t catch burglars, but neighbors do.

One resident said those who call the police are sometimes put at risk if the patrol car pulls up to their house or if the burglar hears their address over the police radio. Hebert said they will stop doing that.

He said he and other Street Crimes officers will respond in unmarked vehicles.

Another resident said more than one officer is needed to patrol the area. Hebert said they could place four patrol cars in a neighborhood and burglaries would still occur.

Another resident said officers need to be proactive rather than reactive. He added that five PAPD officers live in Port Acres and they don’t patrol.

Walker said residents can call the police department or himself and he’ll reply. Van Horn said this was the first time he heard of the situation in Port Acres and the officers were gathering information and learning.

“The thieves are organized and they share information. It’s an enterprise to some of them,” Owens said.

Hebert said residents can do a neighborhood watch by swinging through the neighborhood on their way to store and looking.

Richard asked if there would be an additional officer for the holidays and residents needed a direct line to contact the officers.

Hebert gave the direct line to Street Crimes as 409-983-8680.

Owens said they will be proactive and visible and residents will see a difference.

“We want to see you organized, but you’ve got to do it,” he said. “You need to take your neighborhood back. We need to plan to meet again and where. You are the ears and eyes. Know your neighborhood.”

Richard said a committee can be formed and work with Walker.

The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 12 at the Port Arthur Public Library.

David Ball: 409-721-2427