Blue Byline

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Hilltop neighborhood protective of their progress

Post by Brian O'Neill on July 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm with 3 Comments »
July 11, 2012 4:37 pm

Tacoma City Council members got a rare demonstration of neighborhood activism last Tuesday: 20 people showed up to protest a single item that wasn’t even on the agenda. Those people, all residents of the Hilltop neighborhood, were there to speak out against the rumored addition of a sex offender halfway house in their neighborhood. Whether or not the possibility existed (the answer is probably not), their presence was at least a reminder that a united neighborhood, aka a community, is a power to be reckoned with.

For proof you need look no farther than the Hilltop today. Vital businesses have returned, houses are being built or refurbished, and long time residents are demonstrating true pride in ownership – of their homes as well as their neighborhood. That was not always the case.

In 1994 I transferred to the Tacoma Police Department from another Puget Sound agency. Within six months I began working the 1 Sector on swing shift (which includes the Hilltop and downtown), staying in the assignment for the next three years.

Hilltop Crips prior to neighborhood mobilization/ courtesy

The Hilltop I knew at that time was a far different place. Boarded up homes plagued every street providing haven for the homeless, a quick shelter to inject drugs or turn tricks. Corner stores (“Stop and robs” as they were then called), seemed to be the only thriving businesses. Street corners were reserved for gang members and drug dealers (often one and the same). The days were filled with tension. Nights were filled with gunfire.

Finally, the neighbors decided enough was enough. They formed action coalitions. They spoke out at church and community gatherings. They engaged with eachother. They engaged with the police department. Together, over a period of time residents managed to erase much of the blight. With their efforts, and the backing of the city, businesses and banks, the Hilltop recreated itself.

Sure, there are still problems – there is no magic wand that erases every possible criminal or societal condition found in inner city neighborhoods. But under the veneer of a struggling neighborhood, the Hilltop has (and probably always did have) a passionate sense of community.

That sense is what brought 20 people to the Tacoma City Council meeting on Tuesday. If you think that accomplishment is no big deal, I challenge you to find any issue that would bring 20 of your neighbors to a windowless room on a beautiful evening in the middle of the week.

The people who live in the Hilltop today, especially those who lived through uglier times, deserve their time at the podium. They have worked too hard to stand by, with fingers crossed, hoping their neighborhood won’t be the release point for more ex-cons.

That wouldn’t be fair. After all these years, the Hilltop deserves better.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. NakedRat says:

    I agree that Hilltop deserves better, but unfortunately, it has come at the expense of other Tacoma neighborhoods such as Eastside, Edison and Manitou. Those areas have a very high percentage of sex offenders, gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, illegal aliens and hookers living among the regular, elderly, young families, poor and disabled people who also have chosen to live there because of its relatively low housing cost.

    The City Council has a moral obligation to the citizens of this city to ensure that undesirable people have a difficult time finding a safe haven within the city’s boundaries. Anything else wouldn’t be fair (quoting Mr. O’Neill).

  2. cclngthr says:


    However, the city is not able to regulate where sex offenders, or other offenders set up residences. That is set by state law; which I feel needs to change.

    I feel undesirables, who the courts have truely convicted should have an extremely strict release condition where society determines where they can live and what they do.

  3. davidcouper says:

    This might be a good sign of folks being willing to work together with their police in solving community problems. For more info and ways to improve your police, take a look at my new book, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.” My blog is at where I discuss these and other current police improvement issues. Good luck and may we all experience great policing!

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