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Port Huron shines a light on crime

by Candice Miller on April 26, 2012

What started as a political science homework assignment for Brad Genaw has morphed into a community effort to light the darkest corners of Port Huron.

The 18-year-old Port Huron resident said when he wrote a letter to Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, in the late fall for his class at St. Clair County Community College, it was like “writing a letter to Santa.” He never thought anything would come of it. He didn’t even know if she’d read it.

But on Tuesday Genaw got a surprise. The Port Huron Police Department had a press conference announcing a new program called “Light Up the City.”

Chief Michael Reaves said it started with Genaw’s letter, which was forwarded to him from Miller’s office.

Genaw wrote in his letter he had concerns with an alley behind his White Street home not being lighted. A light fixture that had been on a neighboring garage was removed when the residents left the city nearly a year ago, and reports of vandalism and criminal activities in the alley weren’t uncommon.

Police Cpl. Lee Heighton said after hearing of Genaw’s complaint and others like it, he sought a solution.

While the police department couldn’t do much more than file a report, Heighton reached out to local clergy, businesses and electricians.

In just a few weeks, the partnerships were formed and ready to move forward.

“Problem solving, we feel, is an important part of community policing,” Reaves said.

The program will offer motion-activated lights for outbuildings in city neighborhoods. Businesses, including Gill-Roy’s Hardware, Mortimer Lumber, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, either will sell the lights at cost or donate them to the program for free.

And local electricians, including those at Ainsworth Electric and Stephenson Electric, said they’ll donate their time to install the lights.

“We’re interested in bringing our community back to what it once was,” said Dennis Smith of Stephenson Electric.

When Reaves asked if they’d be willing to install as many lights as they could get, Smith didn’t waste any time thinking about the answer.

Bring them on,” he said.

Faith-based organizations also agreed to help coordinate the efforts.

“When darkness is here and a light is turned on — darkness has got to flee,” said the Rev. Tom Seppo of Operation Transformation.

Genaw said he was shocked to see his one letter started the movement.

“I really couldn’t believe one letter could spark all of this,” he said.

Lighting dark alleys is just the beginning of the police department’s efforts, Reaves said.

“House by house, block by block, alley by alley, whatever it takes to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Reaves hopes to expand the program and make sure it lasts for years to come.

While a light might not seem like much, Genaw said it will give him and his family an added sense of security when they use the alley. With his grandparents’ home on the other side of the alley, he uses it regularly.

“It’s a little scary,” he said of walking through the alley in the dark. “You don’t know what hoodlums are running around here.”

And the light will do more than assist his home, he said — it will be a deterrent for criminal behavior for the entire block.

“It’s going to scare the hell out of them,” Genaw said.

The teen said the fact officials stepped up to solve his problem was a reminder to speak up.

“People are starting to lose their way, they’re starting to lose the courage to say something,” Genaw said. “I feel like finally there is someone out there that cares.”

“The security and safety of our homes and neighborhoods is so important and takes everyone to actively look out for one another. I applaud Brad Genaw for taking the security of his neighborhood to heart.

“I also extend my thanks to the Port Huron Police Department and all of the businesses and organizations who have provided their time and funds to make this program a reality,” Miller said in a statement.

“Brad is a great example of a young person who recognized the need for additional safety measures and proactively sought a solution.

“ Through this new program, the entire community is able to come together and make improvements – all because of the amazing citizenship of one person.”

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Contact Liz Shepard at (810) 989-6273 or lshepard@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @lvshepard.

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