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Midtown streets getting lit up

Trish Wallis didn’t used to walk around her Midtown neighborhood carrying a personal taser, nor did she leave her purse at home when going out at night. But a few months back, when a wave of pedestrian robberies hit her neighborhood, she started taking extra safety precautions, and even stopped walking her dog at night.

"It seemed like it was out of control," she said of the crime spree. “I keep my money and services within a few block radius from my house, so I don’t want the recent crime to change that. That being said, I’m not stupid and want to be safe.”

Wallis, a self-described activist at heart, starting pushing for more lighting on 26th Street, between G and E streets, and notifying the police when she saw suspicious people or activities, like someone urinating in the parking lot behind her home, or a man smoking what she believed to be marijuana by a park, and even a man smoking a substance out of a glass pipe.

"If I’m just one voice to say things need to change in these smaller, related areas, that’s OK, but I just want to see something change," said Wallis, who had lighting installed at her apartment building following the robberies.

While there are many issues related to preventing such crimes, street lighting is one where the solution is readily affable, and that the Midtown community is working to improve.

The Midtown Business Association is currently working with SMUD to add 12 more street lights to prime spots between J and K streets, from 21st to 28th streets, said MBA Executive Director Liz Studebaker.

For this project, the MBA is paying the approximately $15 monthly bill to SMUD for each light, which adds up to slightly more than $2,000 annually. The lights will be installed on utility poles, and will likely be in place by the end of the month, Studebaker said.

“Lighting is the kind of public amenity that sometimes people take for granted, but is really important in working towards a healthy, balanced nighttime experience in the district,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the MBA has put money toward street lighting. About two years ago it worked with the city and the Community Development Block Grant program and matched $60,000 in grant funding for 17 “acorn” lights. The lights were installed in high-pedestrian areas along the J-K street corridor, between 16th and 21st streets, Studebaker said.

The lighting was intended to increase and enhance the pedestrian environment, she said, and to help the transition from commercial to residential areas.

While it certainly may be easier, it doesn’t take an organization to get more street lighting installed. According to SMUD Spokeswoman Dace Udris, all one needs is an existing SMUD pole in his or her alley or backyard, and an account with the utility district.

“And they would be billed for the kilowatt usage, on a street lighting rate,” which would appear as a separate line item on their monthly bill, she said.

“There are a lot of SMUD poles in alleys or backyards, so those would all be potential locations,” Udris said.

During the pedestrian robbery spree in December andJanuary, newly elected District 4 Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents Midtown, organized and held a community meeting with representatives from the SPD, including Bernard.  

The sense of safety was short lived, however, as a woman was shot outside of a party the following night when she reportedly refused to give up her purse to a man. No arrests have been made in the case and it remains under investigation.  

In addition to the more high-profile pedestrian crimes that struck on St. Patrick’s Day – the fatal beating of 28-year-old Josiah Humphreys on the corner of P and 18th streets, and the man who was attacked with a bat on D and 20th streets – there have been several pedestrian robberies or attempted robberies. However police don’t believe they’re related to the winter robbery spree.

"It seems like we haven’t seen the quintessential purse snatches we were seeing before in the Midtown area, thank god," said SPD Spokesman Doug Morse. "I don’t see anything out of the norm or any patterns to those."

Overall, Crime in the central city has increased, according to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee. Violent crime increased 5 percent in 2012, over the previous year, and property crime went up 9 percent. 

"It’s incredibly troubling, it really shakes your sense of basic security to its core," said Julie Murphy, co-chairwoman for the Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association. "We certainly need to be aware of our surroundings, no matter where you are, but to know that the person walking up to you may mean to do you harm…it shakes your sense of security."

Despite these incidents, Midtown is still the place to live, says Barbara Steinberg, a member of the Midtown Neighborhood Association.

"I am a firm believer in urban living and walkability," she said. "I live and work and play as much as I possibly can in my neighborhood."

But Sacramento isn’t immune to such crimes, said Steinberg, and if anything, more criminal activity is reflective of the city’s attractive qualities.

"When you start to draw people to a place, you’re going to draw all kinds of people, good and bad," said Steinberg.  

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