BANGOR, Maine — In recent years, Second Street Park has developed a bad reputation as being the site of drinking and drug use, assaults and other crimes.
But on Tuesday evening, the park was transformed into the kind of place that some longtime residents say it used to be — and will be again, thanks to the efforts of the West Side Watch, a neighborhood watch group formed last year.
Among the attractions at the Bangor event were a bounce house provided by The Maine Jump, police K-9 and robot demonstrations, fire and rescue truck tours, a demonstration by Maine Traditional Karate and an ice cream social provided by Target.
Tim Kelly, who lives at the corner of Third and Warren streets, got involved with the watch because of crime and other issues going on in the neighborhood. He said the group, which has 15 to 20 members, meets monthly to talk about what crime, safety and other problems need to be addressed.
“Myself, I have three generations of family in this neighborhood. I used to play in this park as a kid myself so it’s nice to see that neighbors have come together and are starting to look out for the safety of our kids and make this whole neighborhood safe and a great place to live again.
“We said, ‘Hey, what could we do as [homeowners], taxpayers, residents, to pull together to make it safer for kids?’” he said. “This a great place to live. We’re close to all the amenities, which makes it awesome. That’s why I stay here. This is an effort on behalf of homeowners to say how can we make a difference? How can we do what right for our kids and their future? It’s really that simple.”
Bangor police Officer Jason McAmbley, who serves as his department’s community relations officer, helped residents get West Side Watch off the ground.
McAmbley said he was pleased with Tuesday’s turnout: “It’s much better than I expected.”
As McAmbley sees it, programs like West Side Watch do make a difference.
“People’s behavior changes when they know they’re being watched. It really does,” he said. “It’s the whole neighborhood getting involved and getting active, and it’s the police presence.”
McAmbley said the program could easily be replicated in other neighborhoods and that other residents are beginning to express interest in forming watches of their own.
Geoffrey Gratwick, one of several Bangor City Council members who dropped by, called the event “magnificent.”
“The idea that people can reclaim a city is where the future’s at,” he said.
Jillian Yarmal, who lives across the street from the park, brought her 5-year-old daughter, Samara, and 4-month old son, Kyler, to the park Tuesday evening.
“This is exactly what they need,” Yarmal said of the gathering, which was free to all who turned up.
She applauded the watch’s effort to make the neighborhood, and the park, safer. “It’s good because I walk my children through here every day. I don’t have a vehicle so I have to walk through here to go to the store.”
“I’d like them to be able to have a good environment,” she said. “There a lot more people out here. I believe it’s making a huge difference.”
Second Street resident Lisa Prescott, a charter watch member, hopes the concept will spread.
“It’s our first year ever doing this so we were apprehensive of what the turnout would be. I’m just so pleased,” she said. “We started out pretty small but hopefully, we can evolve into something much bigger as time goes by. Maybe by then we’ll have more neighborhood watches.”