KOKOMO, Ind. - A grass roots movement to combat crime in Kokomo is gaining momentum and the group is now building partnerships with the police department and Indianapolis's Ten Point Coalition in hopes of expanding its model.
"We walked day and night and now this is our neighborhood again," Kokomo Peace Watch Founder and CEO Chris Went said. "Good people own it.”
Went explained a murder of a 17-year-old boy was the catalyst for him to join with his neighbors and stand up to the crime they saw happening in their community.
“As neighbors we turned a blind eye to it because we didn’t know what to do," Went said.
With little direction, the grew made shirts and started walking on a daily basis and made their presence known.
"We’re causing problems for certain people who like to do illegal things and that’s good of us," Peace Watch Co-founder Jimmy Jones said. "We like hearing that because that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to disrupt all the trouble and illegal doings in this community.”
In addition to daily peace walks, the group's leaders say they are addressing some of the root causes of crime in their community. Jones explained the area where he lives is stricken with poverty and many would turn to dealing drugs to get money for food or just stealing.
In turn, the group has built seven free food pantries that are scattered throughout the neighborhood. The pantries are also filled with books and toys for kids.
"Putting out food it lets people know, ‘hey you can come here and get something.' It’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing and then you don’t have to worry about going out and committing a crime or breaking the law," Jones said.
Saturday night the Kokomo Peace Watched was joined by leaders of Indy's Ten Point Coalition for a peace and hope walk in Kokomo.
Reverend Charles Harrison and others marched around a new neighborhood the Kokomo group is looking to target.
“They are very consistent and that is key," Rev. Harrison said. "They are out almost every day and if they continue to do that they are going to continue to grow and expand to all over Kokomo where they are having problems."
The Kokomo Police Department has put its support behind the Peace Watch as well.
"Peace Watch has stepped up here and taken foot patrols to a new level for us.” Kokomo Police Department Captain Kevin Summers said. "(Criminals) know someone is watching them now and I think that’s where it’s made the difference."
Summers explained he has been so impressed with the group's ability to bridge the gap between neighborhoods, police and the business community.
17-year-old LeMarcus McGraw was shot in October at a Village Pantry on Jefferson Street.
Since then, those owners have worked with the Peace Watch to install new security cameras around the building, new lights and the business even put out a sign to let drug dealers know they are not welcome at the store.
Right now, high school students are brainstorming ideas for a community mural that will go on the east side of the business.
"Law enforcement and others can’t do it by themselves," Captain Summers said. "It’s going to be the residents who say, 'enough is enough,' in all our communities across Indiana.”
The Kokomo Peace Watch is currently in four neighborhoods across Kokomo and is hoping to expand throughout the town in the near future.