The Frenchtown community gathered Thursday evening to discuss forming a neighborhood watch organization. Hosted by the Tallahassee Urban League, the meeting marked the first of many to decrease crime in the area. A mix of citizens, public officials and law enforcement were in attendance.
After a rise in teen gun violence in Tallahassee, the Frenchtown community is determined to find solutions from law enforcement and from one another. The most recent shooting on Sept. 8 was non-fatal and stands as the 51st reported shooting in Leon County in 2019.
The meeting initially established that the success of the neighborhood watch will stem only from a relationship between community members and law enforcement. A handout from the Tallahassee Police Department said, “The program will be successful only if everyone in the neighborhood participates!”
Interim Chief of Police Steve Outlaw was accompanied by a panel of officers who encouraged the idea of stronger community relations. Outlaw was recently called out of retirement to serve again and addressed the crowd with a plan of action.
“You’ve got to get involved, you can’t be in the shadows,” said Outlaw. “Neighborhood watch is critical; it’s based on relationships. The same relationships that you establish tonight and coming to these monthly meetings, will carry into these other programs that we just hit on.”
The meeting took a turn when citizens began to vent their opinions with law enforcement and their shortcomings. A consensus among the crowd was that there’s a disconnect and lack of trust between law enforcement and Frenchtown citizens.
The tone changed when Outlaw conducted a vote to enact the neighborhood watch program. The crowd unanimously agreed.
Gregory James is a third generation Frenchtown/Griffin Heights native, pastor of Life Church International and CEO of Reclaiming the Land, Inc. James said, “The meeting plan was very necessary but it was also a meeting where people felt like they could vent their frustrations about law enforcement when it wasn’t about law enforcement.”
James has a negative history with crime in Frenchtown but returned from federal prison with hopes to improve the community he grew up in. “I want to be able to try to mend the fabrics that I tore apart and to do that — that means I have to be a positive force in the neighborhood that I once infested,”James said.
“How do we enhance the lifestyle and the lives of the people that are there? I think neighbor to neighbor, knowing my neighbor becomes the key to all of that,” he added.
The meeting concluded with Outlaw addressing the potential that Frenchtown citizens have to enact change. The Tallahassee Urban League will be hosting a “meeting B” for those who missed the initial gathering.