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Apathy wounds anticrime group

Crime watches work. Neighborhoods stay connected to the Sheriff's Office, which makes for quicker responses and a safer environment.

Apathy is the enemy, and it has set in once again in Hill 'n Dale, east of Brooksville, where the community's crime watch has had its ups and downs over the past two decades.

The roster is down to three people, and those three don't see eye to eye.

President Lila Smith has one plan; board member Eugene Tomkins and treasurer Richard Howe have a different one.

A community meeting scheduled for last Tuesday evening, aimed at saving the crime watch, fizzled. Turns out there were two meetings. And the public didn't show up for either.

One meeting was attended by Smith and a sheriff's community policing deputy.

The other was attended by Howe and Tomkins, who decided to shut the group down and liquidate its assets - an older vehicle used to patrol the community and a small amount of money.

They're aware of laws governing the dissolution of a nonprofit organization, but aren't sure how to go about doing it with only three members remaining.

Tomkins said the lack of interest by residents was obvious and led to his and Howe's decision.

"They don't show up; they don't want it. Simple," he said.

"It's hard to pay insurance, keep nonprofit fees paid and run the car. We used to meet all the time. Now nobody's interested."

Smith isn't ready to give up.

She prefers to make some attempt, with the help of the Sheriff's Office, to keep a more loosely organized neighborhood watch together. She wants to try to attract new members.

"The money was donated by this community, and it should stay here," she said. "I won't quit and give it away."

Hill 'n Dale Crime Watch has had its share of problems over the years as members have come and gone. The group has come close to disbanding at least twice previously, but volunteers showed up at the last moment each time.

That seems less likely this time. Smith said neighbors used to care more. She thinks changing demographics in the community, including a large number of people renting homes, is part of the problem. Unfortunately, the changes have brought more crime, including drug trafficking.

Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jim Powers said his department values all crime watch groups, and he doesn't want to see his good relationship with Hill 'n Dale dissolve.

"We definitely do not want to lose that rapport. I feel it's best not to give up. We can have another recruitment drive with Ms. Smith," Powers said.

Smith likes that idea. Neighborhood watch designation means the 8-year-old vehicle, sold to the group for $1 by the Sheriff's Office, would have to be donated to another nonprofit organization. That's fine with her. There's no one left to drive the car on rounds anyway.

In the meantime, Smith has family health concerns, Howe is moving and Tomkins doesn't want the stress anymore.

But Smith, who has lived in Hill 'n Dale for two decades and said she cares about the community's welfare, vowed to carry on the best she can.

"We'll keep our faith and maybe, like a flower, we'll bloom in the coming months," she said. "You never know."

Maryan Pelland may be contacted at maryanontext.com.

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