RACINE — Carolyn Bonds used to spend nights sleeping on the floor in her Jacato Drive apartment.
She would hear tires squealing, then gunshots.
“The first instinct you have is ‘hit the floor’ because bullets have no conscience,” said Bonds, 63, a retired school bus driver. “Then you end up the rest of the night sleeping on the floor because you are afraid.”
That was what life was like, she said, about five years ago on Jacato Drive, the notorious two-block street just north of Horlick High School, 2119 Rapids Drive. But over the past two years, the Racine Police Department established a Community Oriented Policing house, residents not paying rent were kicked out and other community members have stepped in. In that time, the neighborhood has changed — for the better, residents, apartment management and police say.
“The riffraff has moved,” said Lisa Liddell, who was sitting outside her Jacato apartment Monday.
The street isn’t perfect by any means. Stray shopping carts line the streets and some residents hang around outside drinking during the day. Bedbugs also are an issue, and one apartment complex remains boarded up after a January arson that is still under investigation.
But, Liddell said, “overall it’s OK.”
Bonds said she doesn’t have to sleep on the floor anymore and that “it’s like being in a different neighborhood.”
Driving down Jacato in his squad last week, the area’s COP officer stopped to chat with residents enjoying the nice weather.
“Back in the day, this would have been packed,” said Officer Aaron Henry, whose primary job since January 2012 is working with Jacato area residents and who is based at the COP house at 2437 Jacato. It’s one of six COP houses in Racine.
Where drugs and shootings used to be the main problems, the biggest problems now are civil troubles and loud music, Henry said. Loitering is still an issue, but not to the extent it once was, Henry said.
He said he cannot even remember the last time there was a shooting on Jacato and police statistics show there haven’t been any weapon-violation calls in 2013 as of Friday, said Racine Police Sgt. Jessie Metoyer.
In addition, there haven’t been any robberies reported on Jacato this year, although there have been four burglaries, Metoyer said Friday.
Drunken people still argue in the street, Bonds said, but now she knows she can reach Henry directly if she needs him. Others do the same.
As Henry drove his route Wednesday, one woman told him about a problem with an abandoned vehicle. He also stopped to talk to a boy who was fighting with another kid earlier in the week.
“How do you think you could have dealt with that better?” asked Henry.
“Walked away,” the boy answered.
“Next time, make some better decisions,” he said before driving away.
While the area still is not perfect, many of the most troublesome tenants are gone, said Brian Walton. He manages six Jacato apartment buildings owned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. after the bank that took them over went into receivership.
When he took over 2525 Jacato in 2009 after it went into foreclosure, he gave tenants 28 days’ notice to get out or sign new leases. He nearly cleared the building because tenants weren’t paying rent.
Walton said occupancy in the six buildings, totaling 160 units, is about 60 percent, where it used to be closer to 85 percent.
He also doesn’t have to go to Jacato nearly every night anymore, as he did in 2011. One of his maintenance workers no longer refuses to go there on the weekends.
Some apartments still need numerous repairs, but he’s limited by bank issues. Still, Walton said the street itself has come a long way.
“I think if people drive down there and give it a chance, you will be amazed how quiet it is,” Walton said. “The idea that Jacato is a mess is wrong.”
Group helping residents take back Jacato Drive
RACINE — After the Racine Police Department established a COP house on Jacato Drive, community members still felt that more could be done.
That is where We Are Racine stepped in.
Beth David, who founded the group last summer, and other community members were well aware of Jacato Drive’s bad reputation. Along with police, they wanted to go into Jacato Drive and empower residents to take back their neighborhood.
To build trust, David and other volunteers starting working last summer with the neighborhood kids, offering them a safe place to go and activities.
“You have to work with the kids first, and let people know we aren’t here to tell you what to do,” said David, who drives over from the city’s south side to help.
Kids started coming regularly. Then, their parents started to trust them as well and other neighbors, David said.
They started the program on picnic tables outside the COP house at 2437 Jacato. Then this year, the managers of an apartment building across the street at 2432 Jacato donated an apartment in which the organization could be based.
The apartment had to be completely renovated because there was so much filth on the floor and holes in the walls. But earlier this month, the We Are Racine Advocacy Community Center officially opened.
“Keeps me busy ... we play a lot of games,” Jeaddonis Jackson, 11, said Monday while eating a sandwich on a picnic table outside. Last week, the kids’ itinerary included gardening Monday, circle games Tuesday, bird-feeder-making Wednesday and a dance competition Thursday.
They also go on field trips. Last year, a Fire Department truck come over and created a huge sprinkler, said Jeaddonis, who rides his bike to the center from Layard Avenue.
In addition to kids programs, We Are Racine has begun offering resume and employment help and assistance filling out training registration forms.
David stressed they are there to provide a hand up, not a handout.
“It’s not perfect. It’s not ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ” David said of the Jacato Drive neighborhood. “But it’s a heck of a lot better.”
We Are Racine Advocacy Community Center
2432 Jacato Drive
The center’s current hours are noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and by appointment. The center’s number is (262) 664-3131. The center has a large volunteer list, but the group is still looking for more volunteers, particularly men to act as positive role models. The group also is in need of donations to help fund activities. To donate people can go to Educators Credit Union and donate to the We Are Racine fund.
The group’s ultimate goal is to take over the entire 2432 Jacato Drive apartment building and establish a child care center, computer lab, and small health care center on the first floor and renovate upstairs apartments either to help homeless families stay together or house domestic violence victims.