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Former Toledo mayors advocate for stronger block watch program to combat city violence

Mike Bell, Carty Finkbiner, Donna Owens and Paula Hicks-Hudson will go to city council on Tuesday to propose their plan in time for the 2023 budget.

TOLEDO, Ohio — As Toledo's crime rate continues to be a hot-button issue, former mayors Mike Bell, Carty Finkbeiner, Donna Owens and Paula Hicks-Hudson have come together to bring new life to the city's block watch program.

The foursome plan to meet with city council on Tuesday to push for new funding. On Friday morning Bell, Finkbeiner and Owens briefed media on their plans for Tuesday and decried the decline of the program in recent years.

"I know at one point in time, there were 269 block watch chapters in our city," Finkbeiner claimed. "And I believe there are 39 or 40 block watch programs in the city at the moment, but there's no energy. There's no vigor."

Finkbeiner said he remembers a time during his tenure as mayor when 13 homicides was a tragic year for the city. There were 70 total homicides in 2021, and in order to tamp down on crime, it's going to require more than just police to make arrests, the four agreed. It's time for the community to speak up, they said.

"You can't just put it out there and say 'oh, it's a police thing,'" Bell said. "You have to be a part of the solution too, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to re-engage people in believing in their communities and their city."

The group said this will require the recruitment of more volunteers to keep an eye on the streets and a middleman who can report their findings to the city.
Bell said the startup costs shouldn't break the bank.

"They could put $200 to $250 thousand dollars, that's a good start to get this thing progressively started," said Bell.

The four, who are members of the Coalition for Peaceful Toledo Neighborhoods, a community group focused on reducing crime and gun violence in the city, will present their plan to council, in an effort to make sure they're part of the 2023 budget.

Finkbeiner said with multiple council members already taking part in the former mayors' early meetings, he hopes the idea will receive a warm reception in the council chambers.

"We believe that the added information can help them in their 2023 budget, make intelligent, thoughtful decisions that can strengthen the Toledo police department, strengthen our block watch program and make the citizens of our city feel safer," he said.

Hicks-Hudson, a current state senator, was away on business at the time of Friday's meeting but is expected to be at their meeting with council on Tuesday.

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