Clermont Police Officer David Colon of the Community Policing and Problem Solving Unit (C.O.P.P.S) was presented the South Lake Chamber of Commerce Public Service Award for his creative vision and the successful implementation of the Oakhurst Project.
The Oakhurst Project changed the crime-ridden neighborhood of Oakhurst into a crime-free neighborhood through a citywide effort that allowed police to spend a portion of their time beautifying the neighborhood and connecting with residents.
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A little history on the Oakhurst Community: In 1993, Oakhurst, a new housing project, came to Clermont. The 14-unit complex, located in a historic neighborhood called Lincoln Park, offered people who were renting an opportunity to own their own homes. Over time, some homes became rentals with 10-to-20 residents in a 3-bedroom house. Crime and neglect replaced the once beautiful homes. Original owners feared for their lives. Drug-dealing and assaults became common.
For years, the Oakhurst neighborhood had the highest number of calls for service, including complaints about assaults, drug activity, noise, suspicious activity and code-enforcement violations. Traditional law-enforcement action and intentional community-policing had almost no effect on the crime statistics, and more importantly, on the deteriorating quality of life of the residents living in the 14 duplexes that make up Oakhurst.
The Vision: “It had become routine to go, arrest and standby for the next call,” said Clermont police Officer David Colon. Colon and Clermont Chief Charles Broadway, as well as Colon’s supervisors Sgt. Malcolm Draper and Sgt. Josue Martinez, had a growing frustration over the problems at Oakhurst that resisted the department’s efforts.
When Colon went to Chief Charles Broadway about implementing an initiative that would help the residents of Oakhurst, they discussed the findings of a 2015 presidential task force which found that the public wanted to feel they can trust the police.
Taking a Vision To the Next Level:
In January 2017, Clermont police, under the leadership of Officer David Colon, started the Oakhurst Project.
Colon and Broadway say that when they first knocked on doors at Oakhurst and held a community meeting at a nearby church, they were welcomed; but the residents were highly skeptical. Some landlords were even more skeptical, fearing judgment, bad publicity or even aggressive code-enforcement action. Colon was persistent, meeting one reluctant landlord for coffee in a city 15 miles away. Police officers no longer sat in their patrol cars. They got out and talked to the residents and really listened. The breakfast and potluck meals, with support from companies such as Chick-fil-A, gave residents and law-enforcement officers a chance to bond.
The cost to the City was zero and focused on collaborating with the residents, landlords, local businesses and nonprofits with the help of 150 volunteers who gave more than 300 hours of their time to beautify the neighborhood, build a sense of community and provide a safe environment. Volunteers came from as far away as Massachusetts to help clean and paint. Others pressure-washed the homes and Lowe’s donated all the paint necessary to give every home a fresh, peachy exterior.
Not everything went perfectly. Midway through the project, in the early morning hours of June 11, 2017, there was a homicide in the middle of the parking lot. Ronald Stedelin, a 30-year-old white male, who did not live at Oakhurst, suffered a single gunshot to the head. He died in the parking lot.
“At first, it seemed like a real setback,” Colon said. “Then detectives received an outpouring of support and cooperation in identifying two suspects who were arrested”.
It was a wake-up call for everyone. The walk-and-talks were stepped up. Landlords started evicting people who were not complying with their contracts.
In August, the project reached a tipping point with hardly any calls for service. By the end of the year, the only calls were for information or proactive calls distributing food, holiday gifts or projects to improve the neighborhood.
The initiative has realized a drop in crime and created a neighborhood that went from crime-ridden to basically crime free. The cost to the city: $0.
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The Oakhurst Project, changed the crime-ridden neighborhood of Oakhurst into a crime-free neighborhood through a citywide effort that allowed police to spend a portion of their time beautifying the neighborhood and connecting with residents.
Earlier this year the 2018 Spirit Award, the highest and most prestigious award recognizing a city, was presented to the City of Clermont by the League of Cities.
Clermont Police proudly shared success stories and described local programs including Home/Shelter Recovery, Mobile Crisis Unit with LifeStream, Adult and Youth Mentorship, Stuff A Cruiser, Heroes and Helpers, Partnerships with non-profits, churches and businesses for resources.
Learn more about the city of Clermont and the Police Department by visiting CLERMONT POLICE DEPARTMENT