Hundreds of Copperfield residents turned out for a standing-room-only town hall meeting hosted by the Copperfield Coalition Sept. 18, during which issues ranging from speeding to human trafficking were discussed with elected officials and legislators.
"Through the years I've seen a lot of changing going on, but I've also seen a lot of changes that I don't like, including speeding, running of stop signs, drug paraphernalia shops and most recently, prostitution," said Anthony Cecala, coalition president. "I'd like to see the sheriff's department, constable's department and all law enforcement unite and work together to help solve these problems."
Sexually oriented businesses
In western Harris County, the problems with sexually oriented businesses seem to be on the rise, said Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman.
"The proliferations with [illicit] massage parlors that you've seen arise in your area have also been up and down the FM 1960 corridor," he said. "The problem is like kicking a stack of cockroaches—they just run somewhere else."
The county's sexually oriented business regulations, which have not been updated since 1996, do not give law enforcement officials all the tools they need to shut down illicit massage parlors permanently.
"We are looking for a way to encompass the entire problem and close it off from all sides," Hickman said.
Proposed changes to the county's sexually oriented business regulations were drafted this summer by a task force led by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. The new regulations, which are awaiting approval by commissioners court, would make it more difficult for sexually oriented businesses to operate in the county. They would require certain establishments to register as sexually oriented businesses, and unlicensed massage parlors would be considered illicit businesses.
The sheriff's and constable's offices have programs to help the women found in massage parlors who are victims of human trafficking, but many of them do not reach out for help.
"Their culture supports that back home, and their culture supports that here," Hickman said. "The sheriff's office and [our office] work closely with social groups to find places that will shelter women if they want to get out."
Most of the women do not know they need help to begin with because it is the only life they have ever known, Hickman said.
"Five or 10 years ago, no one knew human trafficking existed," said Ashley Kapsar, director of outreach programs for Redeemed Ministries. "I worked overseas with human trafficking victims and then came back here and realized it's in my own backyard. The biggest thing you can do is become educated."
Speeding and crime
Prior to the town hall meeting, Copperfield residents were asked to submit questions online regarding their concerns about speeding and the running of stop signs. Aron Austin, a coalition director, presented the names of several streets on which speeding is an issue, according to residents. A sample of the streets include: River Gardens, Lakeview Haven, Sugar Ridge, Pebble Lakes, Longenbaugh, West Road, Queenston, Forest Heights, Town Creek Drive, Manor Bridge, River Gardens, Club Lake and Sparkling Springs.
"I've gotten a lot of emails from you folks that you are afraid to have your children go out and play," Cecala said. "I personally bought my daughter, when she was 8, a bike, and at the age of 9, we put it away and she hasn't ridden it since because she was too afraid. There are also a lot of kids who want to walk to the neighborhood pool, but they can't."
Law enforcement officials discussed the possibility of zero tolerance in regards to running stop signs and speeding, along with the addition of speed bumps.
The issue of crime in the community was also discussed during the meeting. In Copperfield, there are typically 15 car burglaries per month, but that number has recently gone down to 14.
"In all 14 of those, there was an item of value left in the front or rear seat, in clear view of everyone," said Sean Walsh, the coalition's crime watch committee chairman. "Don't leave items of value in your car."
In addition, there are about eight home burglaries per month in the community, but that number has gone down to seven. Five have been reported so far this year.
"Statistically, we are averaging the lowest crime we have on record," Walsh said. "Crime goes down when Copperfield residents step up to the plate. You can do that by picking up your phone and making a difference."
Copperfield residents who see suspicious activity are urged to call and report it at 713-221-6000.