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When a man this week broke into a 12-year-old girl?s bedroom on Santa Rosa?s Aston Avenue and began molesting her, it was not a total shock to many of the girl?s neighbors.

They say theirs is a neighborhood accustomed to trouble, one that is still mourning the April shooting death of a high school student and still frightened after a family dispute in January left one man dead and another injured.

Crime touches all of Santa Rosa?s neighborhoods. But residents in South Park say those serious crimes are only a part of a story that includes drug deals, gang fights and a general feeling of unease, particularly at night.

?You don?t want to be raising your kids here,? said John Kelsey, an Aston Avenue parent who wants to move his young family of six to Sebastopol.

Is that perception the reality?

?There are no statistics to back it up as more dangerous? than other neighborhoods, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat said. ?They are no more or less safe than any other neighborhood. Criminals can travel.?

Emergency calls from the South Park beat ? a 30-block area east of Highway 101 and south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds ? occur with nearly the same frequency as calls from other beats.

Of the 5,449 emergency calls throughout Santa Rosa the Police Department recorded between January and June, 2.3percent came from South Park.

That?s an average of eight calls a day and less than one police report or arrest every day.

?It?s a neighborhood that doesn?t receive any different calls than any other neighborhood,? said Sgt. Clay Van Artsdalen, who oversees the beat.

He said car burglaries, gang violence and graffiti were some of the more frequent problems.

?There are drug dealers in any neighborhood. Gangs, once in a while, we will get a report of a fight,? Van Artsdalen said.

Some area residents say the numbers don?t tell the story about the area?s quality of life.

Kelsey said he knew the reputation of South Park when he and his wife, Taffy, moved their family there: The small neighborhood bordered by the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Highway 12, Petaluma Hill Road and Aston Avenue has fought influences such as drugs for the past 20 years.

But Kelsey said it was a place where rent was cheap, landlords wouldn?t pay much attention to their credit score and the couple could work to pay off debt.

The district features a bike path through the heart of the neighborhood, a community garden, a park with a basketball court and community education classes.

A woman living in an Aston Avenue apartment said that over the past several years, crimes such as drug dealing and prostitution have decreased. But more violent crimes, including the drive-by killing of her son?s friend Luis Suarez on Grand Avenue, is worrisome.

?It raises more concern,? she said. ?But I don?t see the drugs and prostitutes any more.?

If crimes are occurring as regularly as some residents say, chances are they are not being reported to police, Van Artsdalen said.

?For us to be able to capture it, people have to report it,? he said. ?We?re not always getting the calls we should be getting.?

Many residents said although they see crimes, they hesitate to call police.

?A lot of people don?t want to get involved. They?re afraid,? said the woman on Aston Avenue. She didn?t want her neighbors or landlord to know she had spoken with the media.

?You don?t want to be next," she said.

Some residents prefer to deal with crimes themselves. When the Kelseys learned a neighbor was dealing drugs from his home, they contacted their landlord, not police.

?We told the landlord it was them or us,? Taffy Kelsey said. ?He chose us."

Drug deals since have decreased dramatically, she said.

Banayat said there have been no arrests in Tuesday morning?s break-in and molestation, which occurred in a duplex set back from the road at the end of an alley.

Alissa Walker, an Aston Avenue resident, said she?d like to see more officers venture into the area?s back alleys to prevent small problems, such as vandalism and drinking, which she says would help prevent the larger problems, like the attack on the 12-year-old girl.

Walker said curbing gangs, including adult gang members and not just children and teens, also would provide some respite from fear.

?The main problem is the gangs,? she said. ?What they need to do is go after the adults. If they pick up the kid for being in a gang, the parents need to be picked up, too,? she said.

Sergio Lopez, a 44-year-old vineyard worker, said the neighborhood has been a good home for him. He keeps to himself and doesn?t worry about any violence, he said.

He said his neighbors are hardworking and doing what they can to support their families. They stay away from trouble.

?They work in gardening, construction and grapes. They are up, like me, to go to work at 5 in the morning. We get home late and stay home,? he said in Spanish. ?For me, it?s calm enough to live here.?

You can reach Staff Writer Laura Norton at 521-5220

or laura.norton@pressdemocrat.com.

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