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Kids are on the lookout for crime

Crime isn't exactly rampant at French Villas Apartments, residents say. Many of the problems stem from big bullies who beat up on little kids and bickering between neighbors. Sometimes, bottles get thrown at windows and the walls get spray painted.

But not for long, if Kids Crime Watch can help it.

"We're going to be watching out for people doing bad stuff," said Rosanna Schroeder, 14.

"It's something that us kids can do," said Kristi Krafft, 9. "It's like foot patrol."

The adults in the public housing complex who thought up the idea of Kids Crime Watch say it will not jeopardize the safety of children. Rather, the children will act as tipsters mainly, alerting their parents or others in the adult Crime Watch to suspicious activity. The adults will determine the action to be taken.

The young group, which met for the first time Tuesday night, will accept children from 8 to 15, according to Denise Nowak, chairwoman of the adult Crime Watch program at the complex, 68th Street and 54th Avenue N.

But, "we will accept children as young as 3 if they're old enough to talk to their parents," Nowak said. If they can communicate, they can inform.

Police won't be called for a fist fight between brothers, but their parents will be told, said Carol Adams, Kids Crime Watch coordinator at French Villas. A more serious crime such as a suspected burglary will require police action, however. Adults, though, will alert police.

Unlike their crime-busting counterparts in Miami or California who are instantly recognizable by their armbands or walkie-talkies, the children at French Villas will act anonymously.

"This is a secret between you and me and all the people here," Nowak told the children at their first crime watch meeting Tuesday. "Try to encourage your friends to join if you know they're not troublemakers."

Tattling among the 15 and under crowd is reason enough to be beaten up. But these kids aren't afraid.

"If they're doing something wrong, they should take the consequences," said Shannon List. "I wanted to do this because I'm tired of people making trouble and getting away with it."

Adams said the homes of adult committee members will be identified by signs on the window so the kids will know where to go.

Throughout the day Tuesday, children in the complex were videotaped as part of the Blockbuster Video kid print program. The children, their names and voices are recorded and turned over to law enforcement in case a child is kidnapped or is missing.

In the future, the Kids Crime Watch at French Villas plans to identify personal belongings and host guest speakers who will advise the youngsters on such issues as personal safety, child abuse and rape. The kids also hope to put out a newsletter funded by their 50-cents membership fee. But primarily, they want to make their community safer.

"We don't want to live in a place that's bad. We don't want to live in a place with crime," Shannon List said.

The program at French Villas is somewhat similar to one at the nearby Tanglewood Apartments, although the Tanglewood group is more service oriented, providing babysitting service and helping the elderly and disabled, said Linda Murray, Crime Watch chairwoman at Tanglewood.

Both youth programs are outgrowths of adult Crime Watch groups and aren't sponsored or sanctioned by the Sheriff's Office.

Tuesday evening, most children were enthusiastic about their new role in the community.

"This is the first place I've been to where there's people to watch over the neighborhood to make sure it's safe," Kristi said.