Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Diego residents worried about rise in crime

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LIGHT MOMENT: Members of the Coral Gardens Residents' Association share a light moment during a meeting recently in Diamond Vale, Diego Martin. From left to right are former Port of Spain mayor Murchison Brown, Elizabeth Antoine, association president Ingrid Felice, and Vickie Loney. –Photo: Courtesy Coral Gardens Residents' Association

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THE RECENT Market Facts and Opinion Survey reported that at 62 per cent crime was the most worrisome problem to citizens. It is a sentiment that would be shared by the residents of Coral Gardens, Diego Martin, for their community has become a target for thieves and muggers. Their response was to band together.

The Coral Gardens Residents' Association, the brainchild of association president Ingrid Felice, was formed in response to a number of crimes in the community. Felice said she felt "particularly challenged" by the crime situation and organised her fellow residents via leaflets in their mailboxes. They started meeting in early 2012 and were formally registered as a non-profit organisation on October 3 to "ensure the safety and well-being of the residents".

Some of the residents, ranging from middle-aged to senior citizens, recalled some of their experiences to the Express during one of the association's regular meetings.

The group's most high profile member, former Port of Spain mayor Murchison Brown, recalled that one morning he missed the hose off his hose reel and wheelbarrow. He would later find the items in a neighbour's yard. He also recalled a few years ago thieves stole everything out of his fridge and freezer and even took his detergent soaps.

He pointed out that most residents on the street are senior or retired and "the question of security of self and property is vitally important".

At the meeting residents also reported house break-ins and a battery stolen out of a car. A major problem in the area was muggings with the Coral Gardens park, situated at the top of the horseshoe-shaped road and behind the Diamond Vale Government Primary School, a particular hotbed for crime.

One resident reported there was a mugging there at two in the afternoon. Two residents reported their sons were robbed in the park at night in separate incidents. Another resident said her son had to run from a group of men who were coming at him from the park.

Brown recalled that while he was mayor he would receive letters from citizens complaining that people had been attacked in the park and it was a site for drug use. At the time he had referred the complaints to the police.

"Right now it belongs to the crooks," said Felice.

Group secretary Janet Rabathaly said they have had problems with the park for a long time.

"We reach the stage we want to take back the park," she commented.

As one of their projects the association has repaired the lights in the park but unfortunately they was broken again by vandals. Brown reported that the association had approached the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission and officials have made a committment to improve lighting in the park. He noted that the residents want to have the park facilities at their disposal and expressed hope that corporate citizens would assist with the lighting project.

For last year the association conducted two fundraising activities, received presentations from security firms on security systems and received a commitment from police to increase patrols in the area. They have also expanded their focus to include disaster preparedness.

Felice said as a network of residents they are "gelling". They have about 35 members so far and have been building a database. They are also reaching out to the western side of the Coral Gardens horseshoe.

Rabathaly noted coming together as a neighbourhood has helped and they inform each other about any incidents like a strange man in front of a house and "now we look out for each other".

"Functionally 'macocious'," Felice chimed in.

Brown noted they have to be "extra vigilant" during this time leading into Carnival season as it was a high crime period. He noted the association has made a positive impact on their street as coming together as a group "helped to get us closer together and look our for each other".

"We seeing a light down the road," said Rabathaly.