Residents, Cops, Even a Gang Pitch In for the Neighborhood

CONFLICT mediation is daily work at the POST (Police Officer Sector Terminal) that occupies a storefront on a busy East Side commercial street in Bridgeport. ``As soon as we walk in the door we start mediating,'' says Officer Mike Sample.

As he speaks, his partner, Jorge Reyes, is helping calm an argument between a landlord and a former tenant.

Officer Sample points out the yellow road barriers that truncate nearby side streets. Those were put in place to block off the drive-through drug dealers and customers who used to infest the area. At the same time, dozens of abandoned buildings used as crack-cocaine dens were boarded up. State troopers and National Guard units helped out, and neighborhood residents pitched in by cleaning up their own houses and yards.

That effort, called Project Phoenix, began last summer at the instigation of local people, says Karen Daden, head of the East Side Community Council.

``This came from the people, not from City Hall,'' she says, though she warmly credits Police Chief Thomas Sweeney for coming to the neighborhood and asking how his department could help.

The project is ongoing. Ms. Daden says she was contacted by the leaders of a street gang, the Latin Kings, who want to help with the cleanup. To her amazement, she says, the Kings were not kids but young men with children of their own. Like other residents, says Daden, they are ``tired of the violence.''

JORGE JAIMAN is a community-police liaison who works out of the POST. A former gang member himself, he said he has helped get 10 neighborhood kids back into school this year and got seven others into a Jobs Corps program. He looks across the street at youths congregating around the doorway to a video-game arcade and says, ``They're community, too.''

Officer Reyes says he knows the area well because he grew up just a couple of blocks away. In his view, Project Phoenix has had a big impact. ``Neighborhoods like this are ... like a standard-shift car.'' he says. Sometimes ``you have to push it to start it.''

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