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Neighbors keep watchful eye in Cedarbrook

In 2010, a man was shot to death as he worked on his lawn. Most say it's stayed calm and that they seldom worry about crime.

Michael J. Lyde Sr., a 43-year resident of Pickering Avenue in Cedarbrook, says he’s the unofficial “sheriff” of the neighborhood. (  Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer )
Michael J. Lyde Sr., a 43-year resident of Pickering Avenue in Cedarbrook, says he’s the unofficial “sheriff” of the neighborhood. ( Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer )Read moreSteven M. Falk

IN THE QUIET pocket of East Mount Airy called Cedarbrook, a recent sun-soaked afternoon drew kids outside to play and neighbors onto their front stoops.

It's the time of year when there are young boys bouncing basketballs on the sidewalk and homeowners chatting while tending to their flower beds and well-kept lawns.

But for some residents of the 4-by-12-block swath on the city's northwestern edge, the warm weather brings haunting memories.

On a summer day in August 2010, 87-year-old George Greaves, a beloved figure on his block, was shot to death as he worked on his lawn - which neighbors say was his pride and joy - on Pickering Avenue near Phil Ellena Street. A man and a woman, ages 14 and 17 at the time, were convicted in the slaying.

"When the weather's changing and everybody's doing yard work, you think you're gonna look up and see him," said Kathy Mathis, 52, a longtime resident of the block who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the Navy veteran's violent death. "It hurt me when that happened."

Ask anyone who's lived on Pickering Avenue for more than a few years about crime in the neighborhood, and most mention Greaves almost immediately. Despite the haunting memory and some changes in the neighborhood, though, most people say it's stayed calm and that they seldom worry about violent crime.

"You'd assume something like that would happen, and everybody's out with their guard up, but no, everyone still looks out for each other," Mathis said. "Day or night, it's just as quiet."

Michael J. Lyde Sr., who's lived in Cedarbrook since marrying his wife 43 years ago, stood outside his house on a recent afternoon and surveyed his block. Lyde calls himself the "unofficial sheriff" of Pickering Avenue, and installed a small surveillance camera in his front window so he can keep his eye on things.

He tends to know what's going on, he said. If there's someone on the block who doesn't belong, he knows about it. He motioned to a house across the street, where a woman shuffled up the walkway under the cover of a few unkempt bushes and knocked on the door.

"These people go over there to buy drugs," Lyde said. "Transient people. It's been busted twice, but we've never had a problem. People are just not gonna tolerate it."

Despite that, Lyde said, the main problem in the neighborhood now is traffic. A church built not far from his house clogs parking during its services, causing headaches for neighbors who've lived there for decades.

"It shouldn't have been built here. That's one of the main reasons we're leaving," he said, adding that he plans to retire eventually to Florida. "Weekends, it's hell, because you can't park."

Police statistics back up the neighbors' feelings. Though parts of Cedarbrook a few years ago were plagued with drug deals and shootings, Lt. Anthony Buchanico - who oversees the Police Service Area in the 14th District that covers the neighborhood - said those have largely become things of the past. The chief complaints now, Buchanico said, tend to center on quality-of-life issues, like illegal parking, disorderly crowds and nuisance properties.

Between 2008 and last year, stats show, serious crimes including murder, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and theft, have dropped 18 percent in the PSA, which covers most of East Mount Airy.

From 2011 to last year, robberies in the PSA dropped 10 percent, from 198 to 179. Murders stayed the same at 10 each year, and aggravated assaults - which include nonfatal shootings - dropped 16 percent. Burglaries dropped 3 percent from 2011 to last year, and are down about 50 percent so far this year, Buchanico said.

Buchanico, who's been running the PSA for 1 1/2 years, attributed the drop in crime to the communication between residents and police and a newfound engagement among citizens fostered by the PSA model, through which lieutenants meet with community members in their areas once a month.

"The bad element, when they find out their area's hot with police or neighbors are keeping an eye on it, they'll tend to shy away from that area," Buchanico said. "It goes to the community and bringing back that civic pride."

Mathis said the tight-knit area of Cedarbrook where she lives still is an old-fashioned community where everybody knows everybody and everyone looks out for each other. Most neighbors even keep each other's phone numbers handy just in case.

"I would never think about leaving at all. I wouldn't trade it," Mathis said. "I love it here."