Police response to burglary prompts feelings of neglect in southwest High Point

by Jordan Green

Burglars broke into Delois Lovett’s house on Evergreen Avenue in southwest High Point through the back door. (photo by Jordan Green)

The burglars hit Delois Lovett’s house at about 8 p.m. on Jan. 3 while she was out. They came up to the house from the backyard, tore the screen out of the storm door and let themselves in.

Lovett’s next-door neighbor, Cynthia Davis, was watching the television drama “CSI” as the intruders completed their work undetected by nearby residents, making off with a flat-screen TV, a computer monitor, a digital camera, a cell phone, jewelry, a checkbook, old coins and a topaz 1975 Ragsdale High School class ring.

The High Point Police Department arrived at Lovett’s house at about 9 p.m. Lovett recalled that she tried to get out of the way as two or three officers cleared the house of suspects and then engaged in conversation with one of the officers.

“He came up with the suggestion that, ‘You can canvass the neighborhood and get back to us with your findings,’” Lovett recalled. “I knew automatically I wasn’t going. I was mad; I was upset; I was frustrated. I’m not going anywhere. That’s your job.

“I think I kind of sort of lost respect for them,” she added. “Every police department has the motto ‘Protect and serve.’ It wouldn’t have taken them 10 minutes to go down the street. They can’t say that’s not their job.”

Evergreen Avenue is a tidy residential street mostly made up of small brick houses built by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the mid-1990s that serve as scattered-site public housing.

Located in the impoverished southwest corner of the city, with modest housing woven into faded industrial tracts of warehouses and showrooms, Evergreen Avenue feels a world apart from both tony Emerywood and the prosperous tech and logistics corridor at the north end of town.

But Evergreen Avenue is also not by any means the area of the city that suffers from the highest crime rate. Davis said the area experienced a string of robberies and a shooting about four years ago, around the time she founded a neighborhood watch. Since then, the crime rate has been stable and relatively light.

A longtime volunteer with High Point Community Against Violence and the police department’s violent crime task force, Davis complains that police response times are slow in her neighborhood — a kind of middle child that doesn’t have the clout of more affluent areas or the high demand of the city’s trouble spots.

“I can only speculate that it’s because we’re not in a prominent part of town,” Davis said. “There’s not a lot of jobs. We’re not a focal point. I’m surrounded by public housing. It’s Russian roulette. You get whoever moving in. Those whoevers need to know that the police department in our neighborhood is just as prominent, visible and diligent as it is any other person’s neighborhood. The police chief is often quoted as saying the police department is ‘the biggest gang in town.’ If they’re the biggest gang in town, then they shouldn’t be afraid to knock on people’s doors at 9 o’clock.”

Davis has also complained that when she called in to report her neighbors for a bonfire in the middle of the night, an officer drove past the house but did not get out of his car. One of a group of men at the bonfire urinated in the couple’s presence, but Davis said a charge of public exposure could not be pressed because it hadn’t been observed by police.

On the night Lovett’s house was burglarized, Davis volunteered to go door to door to ask her neighbors if they had seen or heard anything, reasoning that it wasn’t right for the victim to be asked to investigate the crime. She said none of the neighbors knew anything, but expressed gratitude to be informed of the situation.

Davis serves on city’s planning and zoning commission at the appointment of Councilman Mike Pugh, her representative in Ward 3. She religiously attends

city council meetings and has made herself something of an irritant to the dominant faction of council; her ward representative is also on the outside. Davis is so involved in High Point civic affairs that she said council members have variously suggested to her that she run for office or butt out of city business altogether.

In mid-January, Davis complained about the police response to her neighbor’s burglary, adding, “I don’t know if anyone here has had a B&E, but it’s much like being raped. As a rape victim/survivor, I can tell you: I’m not going to go find the person on my own that attacked me by myself. And to ask a victim who has been broken into to go find the information themselves is a different form of rape.”

After city council heard Davis’ complaint, a High Point police officer interviewed her about the incident in the atrium outside the meeting room.

Capt. Ken Steele, professional standards commander and media liaison for the department, said officers determine on a case-bycase basis whether to interview potential witnesses after a crime has been reported.

“The officers will respond to a call and they’ll talk to the victim,” he said. “And if the hour is decent and there are signs that there are other people around they will go talk to those people for additional information.”

Davis said on the night of the burglary she called a lieutenant and insisted that someone from the department interview the neighbors, and the lieutenant pledged that officers would knock on doors. She said later she couldn’t understand why officers couldn’t canvass the neighborhood while they were waiting for lab technicians to show up and dust for fingerprints.

Steele confirmed that a supervisor had been contacted on the night of the crime. The captain also said an internal investigation confirmed that the incident had been handled according to department protocol.

“The officers did go speak to additional neighbors,” he said. “That’s where Ms. Davis is incorrect.”

Davis has said that the police only attempted to speak to the residents at one additional household, based on visiting about 20 households with the neighborhood watch group in the ensuing days.

She said none of the neighbors reported receiving business cards indicating that a police officer had attempted to speak with them. Steele said patrol officers such as the one that responded to Lovett’s burglary don’t typically leave business cards.

An incident report filed by Officer SE Treadway states that “several neighbors were contacted and no one saw anything out of the ordinary.”

By referencing “neighbors” in plural, Davis contends that the report makes the police investigation appear to be more extensive than it actually was. Steele’s report based on the department’s internal investigation provides some clarity.

“There were six households where an attempt was made to contact residents,” he said, “and one answered the door and spoke to the officer.”