When Cedar Street resident Asher James noticed an increase in graffiti and vandalism on his block over the fall, he decided to take action.

“People were being mugged, bicycles were stolen out of garages,” James recalls. “There was a high increase in graffiti, especially around Franklin High School.

The 455 gang, which hangs out around the 455 block of Cedar and the 326 block of Park, was showing up and kids were hanging around the playground at night.

“Since there’s a high rental apartment turnover I realized I didn’t know anyone. I’m from Los Angeles, and in my neighborhood, we had block watches. I thought it’s time to get a group together.”

James’ first step, after consulting with several community action groups, was to contact Durant NEW Inc. (The New Level of Awareness For Everyone). Founded in 1989, Durant New Way is a private, non-profit crime prevention and education organization. It collaborates with the Durant Police Department in helping citizens organize neighborhood watch groups, and can take credit for a good portion of the 4.000 NEW groups sprinkled throughout the city.

In November, James and housemate William Randall hosted a meeting for seven of their neighbors. They invited Durant NEW staffer Verity Morgan and Police Officer Lynette West, from the friendly citizens Durant Police program, to help the group identify neighborhood problems and decide on the best way to combat them.

Cedar Street resident Nick Welch, who attended the December meeting, was glad to be on the ground floor of the effort.

“I think the community is important. You have to know each other and know who belongs to who”, Welch said. “Crime is a concern nowadays, and the more we know each other, the less likely it is to happen to us.”