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Neighborhoods kept SHARP in bid to fight crime

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POSTED August 7, 2012 1:40 a.m.

Walk down a street in Manteca.

Do you notice anything? Graffiti? Old garage sale signs plastered all over the place? A graveyard of abandoned shopping carts?

The odds are you will notice little of such cancerous scars. And when compared to other valley cities of 70,000-plus, Manteca is downright pristine.

If you happen to be attending a National Night Out block party tonight you might get a  chance to thank one of the people who are a part of a team that is responsible for what you don’t see. They are the men and women who wear the light blue uniform shirts of the Manteca Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP).

You might not think graffiti abatement, removing old signs and making sure stores know where their purloined shopping carts are so they can retrieve them is a big deal, but it is.

Ask people like Mike Barkley.

Barkley - a Manteca apartment complex owner who just made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nod for Congress - for years was a one-man graffiti abatement unit. After getting home from his Bay Area job, he’d drive around Manteca in his VW pickup truck with assorted paint in the back to search out graffiti and cover it up.

Barkley was determined that his adopted hometown wouldn’t suffer the same fate as communities he had lived in throughout the Bay Area.

If graffiti lingers it starts to take hold. It weakens property value and increases the perception a neighborhood is an inhospitable place. It spreads blight and soon riffraff have the upper hand at the expense of law-abiding citizens.

Barkley back 25 years ago understood the war on crime was more than just going after robbers, thieves, murderers and their ilk.

If you want to keep it at bay you have to stop blight - the most expensive carcinogen ever unleashed on the American urban-scape. Blight serves as breeding grounds for the type of crime that impacts more of us more often than the much more horrendous acts that lead off the evening news. Low-level property crime, quality of life issues, and general breakdown of order do more to destabilize a neighborhood than one heart-stopping Class 1 felony.

You don’t notice the damage it does. People start withdrawing from neighbors. When blight takes over one house, it can soon spread to another. Pretty soon someone else gives up. It then creates ripe breeding grounds for all sorts of activity that may have been bubbling below the surface or non-existent in the neighborhood before to take hold ranging from the establishment of gang territories to zones where drug dealers and users and even those who sell themselves.

You might look around your neighborhood especially if it is post 1995 and scoff at such a notion. Don’t laugh too loud. There’s plenty of once stately and upper-class neighborhoods in Stockton, Modesto, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and even Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop that have gone that way over the years.

It isn’t as noticeable in smaller towns, but there are signs of it there. Age is not a precursor of blight. The relaxation of standards and the spread of property crimes - both in theft and deliberate deterioration - are the first signs of the infectious disease.

SHARP volunteers perform a repertoire of things that help free up police for more serious matters as well as help make our community safer whether it is serving on neighborhood and school patrol as additional eyes for law enforcement or freeing up officers by handling traffic control at accidents or major crime scenes.

But perhaps the most important thing they do is help prevent the deterioration of our neighborhoods which in turn reduces the ability of crime to spread rampantly.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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