For years, the Sayonara Drive neighborhood in Citrus Heights lived up to its Japanese namesake:

Goodbye.

Residents seemed to have given up on the three-block, multi-family housing area in the city of 88,000 in Sacramento County as open-air drug markets, shootings, felony assaults, and gang activity sadly became routine.

Many tenants took advantage of absentee landlords by discarding garbage or old furniture and appliances on the street, and neglecting landscaping.

Cops would swoop in regularly to make arrests with targeted law enforcement sweeps, but the crackdowns often would leave many residents feeling mistrustful and afraid to communicate with officers and report crime.

In a dramatic turnaround since Chief of Police Christopher Boyd came aboard with the creation of Citrus Heights’ own police department in 2006, the Sayonara Drive neighborhood has undergone a remarkable transformation, with a new Children and Youth Center and new park, and a stunning 78 percent overall decrease in calls for service from 2007 through 2011.

For its efforts, the Citrus Heights P.D. was named the 2013 recipient of the James Q. Wilson Award for Excellence in Community Policing. The award is presented annually by the California chapter of the Regional Community Policing Institute and is sponsored by the American Military University and the state Attorney General’s Office.

A strong philosophy of community and problem-oriented-policing is at the heart of Sayonara Drive’s dramatic turnaround, Boyd says.

“I believe a partnership with the community is vital to sustained efforts in law enforcement and quality-of-life issues within neighborhoods,” Boyd says. “And this philosophy has greatly assisted in paving the way for success on Sayonara Drive.”

Division Lieutenant Gina Anderson, unit supervisor Sergeant Eric Mattke and project lead Officer Seth Dexter shared the award with Boyd.

The revitalization effort involved partnerships with various community stakeholders, including the Sayonara Youth and Children’s Center, Campus Life Connection, Citizens of Sayonara Drive, and several other entities.

Citrus Heights was incorporated in 1997, and until Boyd and his department assumed law enforcement duties from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in 2006, calls for police service to Sayonara Drive were, on average, 32 times higher than anywhere else in the city.

One bright spot was the non-profit Sayonara Children and Youth Center, but it was too small and located in a run-down four-plex, making it challenging for volunteers to provide after-school tutoring and support to children and the 45 low-income families who live on Sayonara Drive.

Enter Chief Boyd and the Citrus Heights P.D.

To address specific problems on Sayonara Drive, Boyd formed the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, which included officers working to mend relationships with residents by assisting at the children and youth center. The cops, in full uniform, often played basketball with the kids.

Slowly, surely, trust grew, and a stronger relationship between cops and the locals blossomed.

Police then conducted door-to-door surveys of residents, a neighborhood watch group was formed with adult volunteers, landlords began to hold tenants accountable for criminal activity in their rental units, code enforcement officers cracked down, and Sayonara Drive began to undergo a renaissance.

Other key developments followed.

The city of Citrus Heights purchased 15 dilapidated apartment buildings and razed them for future low-income, single-family homes. And a federal grant paved the way for a brand-new, 2,700-square-foot Children and Youth Center, which opened in August 2012.

The opening of the center was followed, two months later, with the opening of a neighborhood park across from the center that includes a half-sized basketball court, children’s playground, picnic tables and other elements.

Boyd says the turnaround of Sayonara Drive can serve as a template for other police agencies that are committed to cleaning up blighted and crime-ridden neighborhoods through similar community and problem-oriented-policing.

“The transformation of an entire neighborhood would not be possible without a citywide dedication to community and policing,” Boyd says.

“After enduring years of problems on Sayonara Drive, residents are finally realizing a vastly improved quality of life,” he adds. “Violence is down, infrastructure and façade issues are being corrected, and the citizens are feeling much safer.”

Captions:
(in order: 1. Before the Sayonara Neighborhood Revitalization Project - Dream Out Loud
2. Sayonara Community Park (across the street from the Youth and Children's Center)
3. Chief of Police Christopher Boyd
4. The new Sayonara Youth and Children's Center
5. Inside the Sayonara Youth and Children's Center)

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