HAMLET — Nine days after a raucous party that evolved into a shoot-out pocking parked cars and a nearby house with bullet holes, Briarwood resident Theresa Taylor approached City Council members at their regular meeting, saying that neighbors in the southwest Hamlet subdivision were “afraid of getting caught in the crossfire” should such an event happen again.
She compared the nearly concurrent police response to their missing K-9, Rudy — it was intense and immediate, and involved people searching throughout the county — to police response to the shooting, wondering whether it would have taken “41 people dead in that yard” to prompt more timely action. (The number 41 was a reference to the number of shell casings officers say they found on the lawn when called to the party.)
“If we’d have had as much (police) presence” during the party as Rudy received, she said, neighbors would feel safer. “We need a little more support out there.”
Taylor did not return a call for comment.
Police Chief Scott Waters and patrol Capt. Marc Terry have expressed puzzlement at the tone of Taylor’s criticisms, saying Hamlet police have been very active in the neighborhood for quite some time.
Call logs for the past 10 years show approximately 1,100 calls to Briarwood.
Ellenton Avenue, the short side street on which the party occurred, logged only 22 calls in that time span. On the other end of the spectrum was Beeler Avenue, a long main road through the subdivision, with 667 — which seems like a lot until it’s divided by 10 years (66.7 calls per year) and the number of weeks (1.3 weekly).
Waters and Terry said they didn’t just come when called but that police were a constant presence in the neighborhood, driving through just to monitor what’s happening.
A handful of law-enforcement officers also live in Briarwood, including Rudy the K-9’s human partner, Britt Emert, who grew up there and bought his former family home.
Hamlet brass and officers both have attended several Neighborhood Watch meetings in Briarwood, and they have purchased and installed Neighborhood Watch signs at each entrance.
Waters said that after the shooting July 1, he called the owner of the house where the party was held, and suggested he take a closer look at his tenants.
“They were very receptive,” he said, and now, “the ball is in their court.”
It’s a violation of city ordinances to fire a weapon in Hamlet, but police don’t know who did the shooting at the party — the renters or guests — so charging anyone is difficult.
Mayor Bill Bayless visited Briarwood himself after the council meeting and liked most of what he saw.
“For the most part,” he said, “they’ve got an excellent neighborhood out there. They’ve been real good on reporting stuff,” including crimes, potholes and overgrown lots.
“When that neighborhood was built, most of the occupants were owners,” Bayless remembered. Now, renters have moved in, and “you always have problems with renters.”
As for firing a weapon within city limits, he added, “that could happen in any neighborhood, sadly, in this day and age.”
City Administrator Jonathan Blanton said that Briarwood usually gave the city “little trouble” in the way of code enforcement: Most people keep trim lots, and those who don’t are quick to clean up after receiving citations.
To his knowledge, “that’s the first major incident out there,” he said. Blanton has been in Hamlet about 18 months.
Steve Graham has lived in Briarwood for 30 years and organized its Neighborhood Watch after consulting with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in 2008. He and a few neighbors wanted tips on how to keep the neighborhood safe, otherwise it could become a hotbed of crime.
He blames the economy — not crime — for difficulties in the neighborhood: It’s tougher to keep up your property if you can’t afford to. But he doesn’t think things are all that dire.
A few “for sale” signs dot the neighborhood, but plastic toddler cars and slides are rampant, indicating that younger families are finding Briarwood a safe place to call home.
“They can’t do all of it themselves,” Graham said of police and keeping the neighborhood safe. “It’s got to be a community.
“Do I think (Community Watch) has made a difference? Yes, it has. Now we know each other. Now, we speak to each other.
“This neighborhood would have gone strongly down” if that were not the case. Graham continued.
Still, Graham said wistfully, “I want it to be like it used to be, (but) I know it can’t.” He can’t sleep with his windows down anymore, for example — but who can?
And he’s secure enough to look to the future and consider his pristine house an asset.
“I’m going to leave it to one of my boys,” he said.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]