Oklahoma City police see gains in high-crime neighborhood

Seven months after Oklahoma City began a yearlong initiative to take back one of its most violent areas, police are seeing progress.
By Kyle Hinchey, Staff Writer Modified: June 4, 2014 at 7:25 pm •  Published: June 4, 2014

Tiffany Shawared said she used to be terrified to walk through the northwest Oklahoma City apartment complex she manages.

Between the high number of break-ins, car thefts and gang violence in the area, she had every right to be.

Shawared has been the property manager at Windsor Village Apartments, 2500 N Sterling Ave., for eight years. The 48-building complex sits in a 4.4-square-mile area that police consider one of the most violent in the city.

“We’ve needed more police force here years ago,” she said. “There weren’t enough.”

Last year, city officials decided to do something about it.

Seven months after police started a yearlong initiative to stamp out crime in the area, Shawared said she feels safe at her workplace for the first time.

“There’s been a huge difference, as far as crime, since the initiative happened,” she said. “I feel comfortable walking around my property.”

High crime rate prompts changes to patrols

In late 2013, city officials rolled out a grant-backed initiative to increase patrols in the area, bounded by N Meridian Avenue, Melrose Lane, N Council Road and NW 27.

High crime rates have plagued this part of the city for decades. Between 2008 and 2012, police reported 1,466 violent crimes, including 14 homicides. Oklahoma City police Master Sgt. Bob Skalla said this area is worse than others because there are so many lower-income apartment complexes concentrated in one small area. The complexes suffer from gang and drug activity.

Skalla has worked this part of Oklahoma City for 21 years. He has been stationed in the Hefner Patrol Division, spending 20 years on patrol. Now, he is working to organize neighborhood watch organizations as part of the initiative to lower crime.

Skalla said 50 percent of the crimes in the zone are taking place in the complexes, with the other half in the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.

With the aid of a $382,000 Safe Oklahoma Grant from the Oklahoma attorney general, the city launched the initiative Nov. 4. The grant is paying overtime for six police officers to monitor and respond to 911 calls involving violent crimes in the area, where the median household income is about $35,000, compared with $46,500 statewide.

Skalla said foot patrols have been one of the most effective crime-prevention tools. The overtime officers are required to regularly walk through the area’s 39 apartment complexes.

“We’ll walk by a breezeway, and literally we’ve seen transactions of marijuana and money going on, and arrests are made right on the spot,” he said.

Oklahoma City’s apartment complexes present patrol issues to the police force. Regular patrol officers are stretched too thin to walk their beats, Skalla said.

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