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Shaker Heights Wants "Edge" Strategy

Sylvan Jonas came to Ludlow School Saturday to get involved, to organize. Jonas says the reality of the New Year's Eve beating of his neighbor Kevin McDermott is still with him. His wife, unknowingly, had driven by the scene just doors away from where they live on Ludlow Road.

Sylvan Jonas: At first she thought the guy had had a heart attack. And, so we weren't sure what happened. And, she walked down and she saw policemen walking around with a flashlight like he was looking for something. And then that's why I thought well, maybe he was attacked. Then, that's when we got the email thirty minutes later.

The e-mail came from Ludlow's neighborhood group president Tom Chelimsky. It prompted residents to meet Saturday morning to meet with city council members of both Cleveland and Shaker Heights.

The notice, and the attack itself, are in a sense a wake-up call in this aging inner suburb where city government takes great pains to maintain a high quality of life. From strict housing standards to exacting grass length measurements, the city is keen on upkeep and appearance. But, last week's attack seems to have chipped away a piece of the veneer, and some worry that some of the struggles of Cleveland's urban core are encroaching into Shaker. Police call the attack an anomaly, and many of the 40 or so neighbors and council members from both cities that attended Saturday's meeting agree. But they also agree that crime is increasing along the border.

Again, Sylvan Jonas.

Sylvan Jonas: It's a fact of life. There are crimes that happen across the border. I don't think it's because it's a border. I think it's just because of the proximity whether it's a border or not the fact is that's where the crime is occurring.

Shaker Heights resident Maria Applewhite says the attack on Kevin McDermott is emblematic of a larger issue that goes beyond suburban boundaries.

Maria Applewhite: I'm sure it's reflective of what's happening on a national level. It's a reflection of poverty, and lack of education, and lack of options. And resentments that have been built up, and haves and haves not.

Applewhite and her neighbor Carolyn Steiner want more neighbors involved as community watchdogs. Steiner says she's hopeful that this gathering will be a start.

Carolyn Steiner: I think it'll trigger people to get involved who otherwise thought they couldn't. It's everyone's self-interest to keep their neighborhood. So I do think this is very much a mobilizing kinda thing. But I think what you gotta do is find ways to let people participate.

Getting community participation is a welcome challenge to Al Foster. The Shaker Heights Councilman is pushing for the city to come up with a citywide strategy to address the problems on Cleveland's edge -- problems he says he knows all too well.

Al Foster: I don't think there's anyone, probably, in this room that lives more on the edge than me. I live on a street called Menlo. Right next to my street is East 154th and Kinsman. I have watched our great police force fight the crime. I want that edge strategy.

This "edge" strategy is a call for greater cooperation with Cleveland police to increase patrols of border neighborhoods. Foster says he's asked city council to appropriate $50,000 toward that end.

In the meantime, Foster and others say, there's simple and obvious ways that residents can change things: Re-activate block watch groups; encourage people to notify police of suspicious or unusual behavior; Communicate with your neighbor. It was that kind of community initiative that helped save Kevin McDermott's life.

Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.