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Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 08:14 am

Order in the court

Residents concerned about crime, start watch program

Darlene and Tom Noreuil moved into Woodland Acres Mobile Home Park, 3500 N. Dirksen Pkwy., in 2004. The couple joined other residents in attempting to form a neighborhood watch association to cut down on area crime.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

When Thomas and Darlene Noreuil moved into Woodland Acres Mobile Home Park, at 3500 N. Dirksen Pkwy., in May 2004 they had recently retired from their jobs with the Illinois Secretary of State and Horace Mann and hoped to settle into a slower-paced lifestyle.

“We were looking for a place to live as senior citizens,” Thomas Noreuil says, “where there is control in the operation.”

The 70-year-old couple picked the court’s newer north end — mostly inhabited by retirees — and were happy to see that park rules discouraged excessive noise, driving above 10 miles per hour and any “improper or immoral conduct.” But, the Noreuils say, in the past few years, they’ve had increasing problems with rowdy visitors, booming stereos, domestic fights and even an area peeping tom.

“Back here, people keep their porch lights on,” Darlene Noreuil says. “We get a lot of criminal activity.”

According to the Springfield Police Department, at least 39 calls for service were made to Woodland Acres Mobile Home Park from Aug. 19, 2008, to Aug. 19, 2009, due to such complaints as criminal damage or theft, disturbances and suspicious vehicles or persons.

Other north-end tenants like Darlene McMurl, who moved into the court with her husband four years ago, has noticed unfamiliar vehicles coming and going late at night. She suspects a couple of nearby residents of selling drugs. Charles King, a retired north-end tenant, also complained about unfamiliar vehicles, as well as frequent parties.

Thomas and Darlene Noreuil say that most attempts to inform park management about these issues have been brushed off or ignored. When questioned by Illinois Times, park owner Ron Coleman said he’s not convinced that Woodland Acres has any major causes for concern.

“We, like any neighborhood, have a problem now and again,” he said. “Occasionally when teenagers go out of the park, sometimes they go out fast, other times they play loud music. But I’m not aware of anything that would classify as a problem in this park.”

Thomas Noreuil, who’d started surveying the court’s north end from his front porch with a pair of field binoculars, helped organize the park’s first neighborhood watch association last fall. Residents from 29 north-end lots participated, he says, by attending the initial informational meeting with the Springfield Police Department and by placing official “neighborhood watch” stickers on their front doors or windows.

“We are the activist group down here,” he says. “It was a viable, constructive organization to surmount these problems.”

SPD Sgt. Andy Selvaggio says the police department teaches neighborhood watch association members to be more alert and vigilant in reporting suspicious activity in their areas. Once neighbors begin noticing problems, he says, they call the police department more often and get a quicker response from officers.

“We teach them that we want to be bothered. We want them to call us,” Selvaggio says. “They know more about their neighborhoods than we do, that’s what we tell them.”

Thomas Noreuil says neighbors ran into trouble when they asked Coleman if they could stake neighborhood watch signs at the entrance to the court’s north end and at its T-intersection. Even though Coleman had once advocated for a watch program — in a signed notice previously sent to tenants, the park owner announced that he wanted “all tenants to start a neighborhood watch, so as to protect each other from vandalism, so we need the cooperation of everyone” — the Noreuils say that he wouldn’t let them post signs.

Coleman refused to comment on the neighborhood watch program at Woodland Acres Mobile Home Park.

Thomas Noreuil has resumed his post on his front porch, saying he often watches over the neighborhood until 1 a.m. and calls the police at the first sign of trouble.

“The cops are our only backup,” he says. “If it wasn’t for the cops, I don’t know what we’d do.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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