Stories of Sprigg: Easy access for public services

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com The Cape Girardeau Police Department headquarters are on Sprigg Street, but officers also practice at the shooting range on South Sprigg Street near Cape La Croix Creek.

After 13 years of living at the corner of South Sprigg and Locust streets, Heidi Weaver has grown accustomed to hearing sirens as emergency vehicles race up and down the street in front of her well-manicured yard.

"You listen to see how far away they are, then if they turn near your place, you check to make sure it's none of your neighbors," Weaver said.

Sprigg Street is the home of several public safety facilities and community resource centers.

The Cape Girardeau Family Resource Center at 1202 S. Sprigg St. provides the community on the southern part of Sprigg Street with a free after-school program that generally draws around 15 students. In coming weeks, the center will hold a summer camp, with mandatory parental involvement, to help children keep their minds active while away from school. The camp, from June 30 to Aug. 7, will have up to 40 children enrolled.

Sprigg Street is the home of two fire stations, the Emergency Operations Center, the headquarters of Cape Girardeau police and the Cape Girardeau Family Resource Center. It also serves as home for community services and as the main travel route for police cars, ambulances and firetrucks responding to scenes on any of the arterial roads.

"I think Sprigg Street is the ideal location for a fire station," fire chief Rick Ennis said.

Sprigg Street allows easy access for emergency vehicles to get to their destination quickly, the reason it was chosen as the site of two fire stations, Fire Station No. 1, at 1 S. Sprigg St., which replaced the old firehouse on Independence Street in the 1970s, and the newly built Fire Station No. 3, at 1975 N. Sprigg St., which also serves as the Emergency Operations Center and 911 communication center for Cape Girardeau, said Sam Welker, assistant fire marshal. Years ago, Sprigg Street served as the dividing line between east and west, splitting the city into patrol zones for police at Sprigg and Independence street.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Gale Phillips, left, scrubbed, Mark Starnes rinsed and JoJo Stuart dried as the Cape Girardeau firefighters washed an engine Tuesday afternoon at Fire Station No. 1 on South Sprigg Street. Fire Station No. 3 is on North Sprigg Street.

Now, it's West End Boulevard that acts as the meridian between east and west. The zone south of Independence Street is Zone 4, and the north half of Sprigg Street is in Zone 2.

"Because the city was expanding westerly, we try to keep the size and calls within a manageable number so one patrol zone doesn't have all the work," said Sgt. Barry Hovis, spokesman for the police.

For several years now, platoon sergeants have relied on a system known as community policing, meaning every patrol officer is assigned to a particular zone indefinitely, Hovis said.

"They wanted someone assigned to one neighborhood one a permanent basis, so they'd get to know it well," said Jason Young, a patrol officer assigned to the zone that encompasses South Sprigg Street.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Larry Mobley, left, and Malik Maxwell, of McClure Roofing, put new shingles on the Cape Area Family Resource Center on South Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau on June 4.

The idea behind community policing is that an officer becomes familiar with one particular area, developing a working relationship with the people in that neighborhood, and isn't surprised by calls.

"He doesn't have to learn the whole story over when he gets a call from a particular individual," Hovis said.

After four years in the department, Young knows the south side of Cape Girardeau.

During a recent ride-along, Young was dispatched to a disturbance in which a woman reported her partner heavily intoxicated and trying to saw down a chain-link fence in the backyard. She was afraid he'd get hurt, she said.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Firefighters wash engines every day at Fire Station No. 1. Tuesday evening, a control panel was dried.

Before responding to the address to defuse the situation, Young ventured a guess as to the identity of the caller. This sort of incident had occurred before.

Later during his shift, Young found a gold Buick sedan parked on Perryville Road. The car had been reported stolen earlier that day. After speaking with the owner, Young was able to identify the alleged thief and confirm that he frequently found himself accused of stealing cars. He also knew the man's usual hangouts.

The flip side of community policing is that there is a always a "rover," usually a segreant, available during a 12-hour shift to ensure backup is available, and that officer is always familiar with all four zones, Hovis said.

Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case, said Dale Ratliff, a former officer and a longtime North Sprigg Street resident.

"There were a lot fewer officers. We were spread out fairly thin," Ratliff said. "You were pretty much on your own if something happened."

A changing climate

Ratliff said he has seen the climate of Sprigg Street change dramatically over his 31 years as an officer.

As his time with the police department increased, he saw certain types of calls escalate in severity and frequency, such as domestic disputes.

"Early on, most families would take care of situations themselves. Anymore, those types of situations have progressed to a more dangerous situation," Ratliff said.

Last year, Cape Girardeau police received 231 assault calls on South Sprigg Street and 42 assault calls on North Sprigg Street.

Ratliff said his mother, who owned a grocery store on South Sprigg Street, had been robbed several times over the years.

Fights also broke out on more than one occasion near the store, at 2106 S. Sprigg St. and previously at 1007 S. Sprigg St., but now, people tend to congregate in the parking lots of one of the two Rhodes 101 locations, one at Sprigg Street and Highway 74, and one at 1126 N. Sprigg St., Ratliff said.

Before the Rhodes 101 Stops were built, Don's Store 24 on South Sprigg Street used to be the site of many a large fight, and it wasn't unusual for police to have three or four patrol cars in the parking lot just before the bars let out as a precaution, Hovis said.

Now, "there's two other convenience stores, where people can avoid conflict if they see someone they don't get along with at one. They can just go to another," Hovis said.

Saturday night, a patrol officer cruising Zone 4 noticed a car without headlights in the parking lot of Don's Store 24 and attempted to pull him over. The man took off, swerving and hitting a tree after running his car up on the sidewalk. He then jumped out of the car and fled on foot. Police are still looking for him.

That brand of excitement has become rarer on South Sprigg Street these days, though, said Weaver. the 13-year resident.

On several occasions, Weaver said, she would come home to find a drug deal taking place in her backyard.

"We ended up getting a pit bull. You learn that it's usually easier to take care of things yourself," she said.

The only time she can remember ever being afraid in her own home was about 10 years ago when a group of teenagers badly injured a boy in a fight. Weaver tried to get them to break it up, and they retaliated by spending several hours outside her house, blaring music and drinking.

"I woke up because the headlights outside my windows seemed like they were inside my house. There must have been 50 or 75 people out there," she said.

Amanda Dorris, 17, who just moved to 1101 S. Sprigg St. two weeks ago from Thebes, Ill., said she tries not to walk around at night, but when she does, there are a lot more people out and about than she's accustomed to.

"You see police patrolling a lot," she said.

Most of the drugs and violence have moved out of the south side now, and Weaver's biggest complaint of late has been the fireworks set off by neighborhood children during the summertime. They've caused fire damage to several homes on the street, she said.

Ten fireworks violations were reported on the south section of Sprigg Street in July last year. No violations reported on North Sprigg Street.

Weaver still doesn't hesitate to call the police if there's a problem and has lost track of how many times she's called in 13 years. But she believes she lives in a relatively safe neighborhood, all in all.

"If they could do something about the speed limit, get the landlords to take care of their rental properties and do something about the fireworks, we'd be OK," she said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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