The tiny Sierra Oeste community is a dangerous place to live.
“It’s the highest in all of the Las Vegas Valley for violent crimes,” Las Vegas police Sgt. Phillip Merges said Thursday.
But Merges is hoping to change that with help from a lot of people.
Police and other community groups on Thursday launched an initiative aimed at transforming the troubled neighborhood on the south side of Lake Mead Boulevard, west of Jones Boulevard. The community is bounded by Bellota Drive and Lirio and Arpa ways.
From November 2012 to November 2013, police reported 33 illegal shootings, 17 burglaries, 6 stolen vehicles and 4 robberies in the area. On Dec. 9, a man was found dead slumped over the steering wheel of a minivan with an apparent gunshot wound in the 6300 block of Lake Mead, directly across from the Sierra Oeste community.
The effort to push back crime started with a parade that began at Fong Elementary School and included several K-9 and mounted police officers, firefighters, paramedics, a viking ship and of course, Santa Claus. The parade ended with a block party complete with Christmas music, free food, gifts for giddy children and a drawing contest on the corner of Bellota and Arpa, in the heart of the Sierra Oeste community.
The project, which is expected to unfold over 10 to 12 months, aims to change both the characteristics of the community by repainting the buildings, cleaning up the streets and adding extra lighting to improve nighttime safety. Tomaino also hopes to add a park for the children within the community itself.
“It’s a high crime area that we typically deal with quite a bit,” said Capt. Chris Tomaino, supervisor of the Northwest Area Command. “We’re looking at trying to completely change that particular neighborhood long term.”
The team spearheading the program says that the project starts with the youth of the community.
“It’s all about the kids,” Merges said. Getting the kids to see police officers as role models instead of officials who only appear when something bad happens could be a big help for the children, he added.
The community, made up of 80 or so fourplex apartment units along five short streets, had over 130 domestic violence calls this year, according to police.
“All (the children) know is what they see right now,” Tomaino said.
Christian Schoyen, project director for Hometown Heroes United, hopes to bring a “strong community spirit” to the area, something he said is vital for children to thrive and to break the cycle of violence that has plagued the neighborhood for years.
“We hope we can alter that life path,” Schoyen said.
For the past several weeks, Schoyen and others involved in the project have been knocking on every door to get to know the families and better understand what troubles the community.
“We told them we wanted to help in the best possible way we could. We want to reduce crime and reach out to the children,” Schoyen said.
Tomaino hopes the initiative will improve the quality of life in the area and give residents “the ability to go out in their neighborhood to take a walk without fear of being victimized,” he said. “When you increase the quality of life in a particular location, you start bringing back certain expectations people have when they’re in a particular area.”
The parade and block party drew hundreds of residents who came out to meet officers and hear about the changes. “This went beyond what we could have anticipated,” Schoyen said.
“We want to put a dent in a lot of the negativity that’s taken place in this very small but very active community at Sierra Oeste,” Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow said Thursday.
Th goal is to give residents “a sense of safety and security… in order to grow their families in a positive and safe environment,” Barlow added.
Schoyen knows that transforming a neighborhood known to many as the “baby ghetto” won’t be easy.
“A drastic situation needs drastic measures,” he said. “This is not going to happen overnight.”
Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.