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      Sumter residents take a bite out of crime

      Charlie Boulware heads up the neighborhood crime watch in Sumter's Historic District.

      SUMTER (WACH) - With its picturesque downtown and quiet neighborhoods, it may be hard to understand sumter's reputation as a high crime city. Is that perception wrong? Sumter Police Chief Patty Patterson says yes.

      "To hear people make those derogatory comments about how bad things are, when in essence, quite honestly, if it was that bad there would probably be a lot of us that wouldn't be here if it was to that extreme," said Patterson.The chief says during the past ten years Sumter averaged between four and seven homicides; for the first four months of this year assaults, breaking and entering and car thefts are all down.Patterson says Sumter is often lumped into the category of metropolitan city, which tends to magnify criminal activity.

      "When we're compared to major cities that are also metropolitan cities, but they're truly a greater metropolitan city than we are, because they're going by 100,000 population, and we have less than half of that."

      But Patterson says even one homicide is too many, so she encourages residents to pick up an age old crime fighting tool; the neighborhood watch group. Charlie Boulware answering the call, starting his own watch group a couple of years ago. "I'd say we've got more than 300 individuals, and about 192 households involved in this Historic District Neighborhood watch."

      Honored recently for his crime prevention efforts, Boulware says he's noticed a decrease in petty offenses in and around his neighborhood; but he says that will only continue if residents care enough about their neighborhood.

      "The sign without the people is useless, but when the sign represents the effort of the people then you've got something."

      Boulware is concerned not only about his neighborhood; he also wants to snuff out criminal activity throughout the county.

      "My dream is to have one neighborhood watch, butting up against another, throughout the county. They get reported in this area, they move to another area, they get reported there, eventually, get on out of Sumter County."

      Chief Patterson says the city has other crime fighting and prevention programs in place such as software than can track in real time when and where crimes are occurring, a teen court program that's been in place since 1998, and a school mentoring program involving officers who volunteer on their own time.