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Antelope Valley Region

Lancaster, California

 

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From the Antelope Valley Press, HOMETOWN HEROES - 27 May 2007 the title read:

“Never Silent, Burgess effects changes in neighborhood, across city”

What began as one man’s fight to save his neighborhood has created a rippling effect on how the city of Lancaster deals with crime.  Gary Burgess, 68, said his interest in city affairs began with a drug house on his street near Fifth Street East and Avenue H-8. 

Burgess has lived in the neighborhood since the 1950’s, raising five children with his wife, Shirley.  “I’ve always liked to be outside a lot and you notice things,” Burgess said.  “In the early 90’s I noticed a house on the corner I didn’t like.”

Burgess banded with his neighbors and began documenting license plates, times, dates, and description until the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shut it down. 

“All it takes is one or two problem houses to bring down an entire neighborhood”, Burgess said.  “That’s why everyone needs to step up and sometimes city code enforcement is the only way to deal with nuisance properties.”  City officials said Burgess was influential in the city’s decision to reinstate its neighborhood watch program and the hiring of a crime prevention officer.  “Gary has a healthy impatience with the system.” City Manager Bob LaSala said.  “His focus on the neighborhood and his determination to improve it is worthy of recognition.”

LaSala said Burgess’ involvement has broadened his appreciation for the issues associated with crime, neighborhood integrity and the need for citizens to actively engage with their city and law enforcement.  I respect him for his candor and honesty, “La Sala said.  “His motivation is unselfish and only for the betterment of the community.”

In the last year, neighborhood watch programs have jumped from a handful to 70 and Lancaster plans to add another crime prevention officer to offset demand.  “Too many people complain and then sit there waiting for somebody else to solve their problems.” Burgess said.  “I sometimes wish the city would move faster, but I do realize it’s a three-way partnership.” 

Although Burgess makes frequent calls to code enforcement, he also tries to engage his neighbors in having some prided in their homes.  “My stepping up goes back to my high school and military days when a large group of my peers were unhappy with the situation, “  Burgess said, “I would be the one to stand up and express our dissatisfaction.  Most of the time you are left out on a limb because, although many complain, not many take action.”

Burgess’s biggest pet peeve is those who stay silent when they had an issue.  “If you relate something once you are telling a story.  When you mention it again you are looking for support or gathering facts.  When you repeat the story after that without taking action, you are just a complainer,” Burgess said. 

Capt Carl Deeley, commander for the Lancaster sheriff’s station, said if more neighborhoods had people like Burgess, it would be like adding a couple hundred deputies to the streets.  “Ton’s of people call and complain, and I always admire someone like Gary who wants to be part of the solution,” Deeley said. 

Burgess’s commitment led him to become a volunteer at the Lancaster Sheriff’s station something he urges everyone to consider.  “I realized when I stated fighting for my street; it is only one of many in the community.”   Despite his many efforts in the city, Burgess is reluctant to cast himself as a hero.  “A hero is someone who runs into a burning building to save a child,” Burgess said.  “I am just trying to make this a nice place to live.”