HOUSTON -- A Houston neighborhood is getting national attention for all the wrong reasons.
Drop by Travis McGee's barber shop in Sunnyside and you might hear guys talking about sports, arguing about what's become of the Rockets and what might become of the Texans. Look on the walls and you'll see pictures of boxers and ballplayers, along with Al Pacino posters from "Scarface," the owner's favorite movie.
But if you hang around long enough, you might hear the talk turn toward another ubiquitous subject: crime.
"We can't walk the streets and exercise no more," said John Jernigan, sitting in the barber's chair as the clippers buzzed around his ears. "That's what makes it so bad. I like to exercise in the morning time, but I'd hate to go walk around with a weapon. And it's just that bad."
So bad that a real estate research firm, Neighborhood Scout, has declared Sunnyside one of the ten most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation.
The mostly lower-income, residential enclave in southeast Houston ranked sixth, with a rate of about 91 violent crimes per every 1,000 residents. The firm concluded that Sunnyside residents stand about a 1 in 11 chance of becoming a crime victim each year.
“The seniors and everyone else, they don't feel safe walking the area,” said Travis McGee, the barber shop owner who’s also president of his neighborhood civic club. “It has been a lot of people who have gotten their concealed handgun licenses."
The barber doesn’t have to look far for evidence of his neighborhood’s trouble. The frame around his front door still shows damage left behind by burglars who broke into his shop a few months ago.
Sunnyside residents have complained about their neighborhood’s crime problems for decades. Then again, so have people in many Houston neighborhoods, but Houston Police Department data backs up the argument that this area suffers some serious problems.
Exact numbers are difficult to pin down, mainly because the boundaries of subdivisions don’t exactly correspond to the boundaries of HPD police beats. But in the HPD district most closely mimicking Sunnyside, the crime numbers are especially startling.
Just in the month of January, Houston police in that district reported 66 thefts, 40 burglaries, 28 robberies, 27 aggravated assaults, 12 auto thefts and one rape.
"It's a crime problem out here,” said Janice Jones, a longtime Sunnyside resident. “We do have a crime problem out here."
If you ask people why Sunnyside has such a serious crime problem, you hear a variety of answers. Some homeowners attribute it to apartment complexes that have sprung up during the last couple of decades. Others say the streets became especially dangerous as drug dealing flourished.
“As long as you’re not careful, it could be (dangerous),” said Kevin Jones, another longtime Sunnyside resident. "Long as they have dope out here, long as they have people who's not responsible not getting their house together."
Civic leaders are asking for more police protection and a better relationship between officers and people in the neighborhood. Simply enforcing ordinances against truancy and curfew violations, they say, would help take young people off the streets where they’re getting into trouble.
But John Jernigan isn’t counting on any of that. The retired school district worker’s home is surrounded by a wrought iron fence with pointed spikes. Surveillance cameras mounted on his roof point down into both his front and back yards. And he has so many dogs, he can’t keep count.
“This is a dangerous area to me,” he said. “And I don't want nobody coming here and kick my door down, take what they want. I worked too hard for it."
Click here to view the full list of cities in the Neighborhood Scout report.