Breakfast, potlucks turn violent neighborhood into safe place

Officers regain trust in Clermont community

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CLERMONT, Fla. – When Oakhurst, a corner condo complex off State Road 50 in Clermont, was first completed in 1993, Ruby J. McCoy was one of the first to buy.

"When I first moved in it was so good," McCoy said proudly.

It didn't last.

Crime invaded Oakhurst, and it became one of the most dangerous places in Clermont.

Residents said a drug dealer ran over and killed a child. Last year, a resident was shot and killed in the parking lot.

Police were called to Oakhurst for drugs, screaming, fighting and shootings all hours of the day, every day.

A single corner block of Clermont was disproportionately drawing on the city's resources -- until March of 2017.

Clermont police Officer David Colon volunteered to try something new: no arresting, but rather connecting.

With the blessing of the police chief and backing of the police department, Colon began knocking on doors and inviting residents to surprise breakfasts that officers had set up on the sidewalks.

He organized potluck dinners.

He asked for volunteers to clean, pressure-wash, paint, and trim trees. Hundreds of people and organizations donated their time and supplies.

"When you give someone a gift they don't expect, it seems to move a certain part of that person," Colon said. "At first, we could see in their faces, they were like, 'What's going on, what's this truly about?' But you know what happened, we kept doing it again and again." 

Colon introduced landlords and owners to each other. They'd never met.

"We got results, we all did. I know there's a lot of emphasis on Officer Colon, I did a lot of spearheading, but without these partners, it can't be done," Colon said.

Every day for a year, Colon showed up at Oakhurst.

"We began to trust him and everything he said he did. He didn't lie to us, nothing like that," McCoy said. "Because he was faithful, he was persistent, he was patient and kept coming out."

The parties died out, the drugs left and the shooting stopped.

McCoy said since Colon started his effort to turn around Oakhurst in March of 2017, the crime rate has dropped more than 90 percent and violent crime has disappeared.

He continues to visit Oakhurst now every other day to make sure the peace continues, the community stays clean and maintained and the residents interact with police and each other.

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