Kokomo neighborhood seeing changes after watch team takes action

KOKOMO, Ind. - With six months of work behind them, a neighborhood watch group has begun to see results it was looking for. Peace Watch Kokomo formed last fall after a teen was killed in the neighborhood, forcing residents to take a stance against crime.

On Oct. 23 of last year, LaMarcus McGraw, 17, was shot and killed in an alley behind a Village Pantry along the 900-block of West Jefferson Street. Police said it stemmed from a drug deal gone wrong.

Kaliel Rucker was captured shortly after McGraw's death and charged with murder. Right now, Rucker's trial is set for May.

Though police found who they believed was responsible, neighborhood leaders felt crime could be avoided by cleaning up the area. They wanted Village Pantry on board.

“We initially had communication issues between the neighborhood group and Village Pantry," Captain Kevin Summers of the Kokomo Police Department said. "Both sides felt the other wasn’t listening.”

Peace Watch Kokomo was formed and residents in the neighborhood began posting signs warning criminals to get out. They also patrolled the neighborhood to watch for any suspicious activity.

"They walk all hours of the night and in the afternoon," said Summers.

While it took some time to bring the two sides together, Summers said that finally happened in February.

“Their management staff came down and sat at the table with the Peace Watch and other neighbors from the neighborhood," Summers said. "It’s been a really good opportunity to bring everybody together.”

The meeting allowed the neighborhood to express their concerns about Village Pantry, specifically, safety measures it could take to prevent further crime and ways to make the business spruce up the area.

Summers said run down areas can actually attract criminal activity. "When you’ve got issues with a store or any kind of business that appears to be run down sometimes that creates that environment," he said.

Village Pantry management agreed to add and replace outside light fixtures and install security cameras, which both have already been done. It's also scheduled to re-pave the parking lot this summer. The store has also agreed to allow local artists to paint a mural on the store's north exterior wall.

Peace Watch Kokomo is continuing its mission every day. It will team up with the Ten Point Coalition out of Indianapolis on Saturday, April 22 to walk through the Studebaker Park Neighborhood in Kokomo.