Thursday, June 3, 2004

Pleasant Ridge mobilizes

Residents join 'court watch' to track repeat offenders

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PLEASANT RIDGE - Residents in this Cincinnati neighborhood have formed a "court watch" program to track those accused of committing crimes.

The goal is to keep repeat offenders off the streets by following criminal cases through Hamilton County's court system.

Neighbors have a chance to write letters to judges. They also may appear in court to discuss the impact of the offender's conduct and urge appropriate sentencing, Terrence Cosgrove told residents Tuesday. As chief counsel for Cincinnati's law department, Cosgrove works with Cincinnati police on community-based prosecution.

Similar court watch programs exist in neighborhoods such as College Hill, Camp Washington and Northside. One might start soon in Over-the-Rhine, Cosgrove said.

"More and more communities are coming on board because they want to have a say in their community," he said. "Right now a lot of people feel a tremendous amount of frustration toward the court system ... all too often the judge may not know what impact this person has on the community."

Residents in Pleasant Ridge are following the criminal cases of four adults and one juvenile; all the cases are drug-related.

The community of about 9,000 has one of the lowest crime rates in the city, says Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Engleman, Pleasant Ridge's neighborhood officer. And so far this year, compared with the same time last year, crime and calls for service are down, he said.

Neighbors are proud of their quiet streets and eclectic business district. Minor drug sales in the area, however, are troubling them.

"Our big concern as a neighborhood is to eradicate the handful of drug transactions that occur in hidden locations," said Bill Baker, chairman of the community council's safety committee.

Phyllis Schoenberger of College Hill told Pleasant Ridge neighbors the court watch program in her community has been a success.

College Hill's court watch was launched last fall and, with a citizens-on-patrol program and other community policing efforts, it has helped to reduce drug crimes and keep repeat offenders off the streets, she says.

"Perseverance is the name of the game," she said. "You mustn't stop and start. You must continue. Every day makes a difference."

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