Five years ago, J.J. Pair was in the midst of a war she vows never to fight again. The battle, set in an inner-city St. Louis neighborhood, pitted neighbors against drug dealers, prostitutes and murderers.

“We were all in a battle together,” Pair says. “It was a very volatile situation. I don’t ever want to have to live like that again.”

That experience serves as the impetus for an ambitious plan by Pair to challenge crime near her new home on Lakemere Drive in Lake Highlands.

Her crime prevention efforts have turned into a virtually full-time volunteer job making our City and our neighborhood safer places to live.

“If everybody was involved like J.J. was, we may be able to wipe out crime,” says Dallas police officer Tony Crawford. “She’s indispensable as far as volunteering goes.”

Ever since our newspapers’ inception, the Advocate has teamed with the Lakewood and East Dallas Chambers of Commerce to honor a neighborhood resident or volunteer who is making a significant, positive impact on our community.

We solicit nominations from throughout the community and review the nominees with an eye toward honoring someone who isn’t necessarily the most visible volunteer, but someone who is working hard behind-the-scenes to make a difference.

This year, J.J. Pair is our honoree.

Fellow volunteers says Pair makes people realize that an apathetic attitude will get you nowhere.

“J.J. just kind of reels you in, and before you know it, you’re hooked,” says Casa View Oaks Crime Watch manager Cindy Barrett.

“She holds to the philosophy that if you want something changed, you shouldn’t just sit there and gripe about it – you have to jump in and get you’re hands dirty.”

Pair devotes about 30 hours a week to preventing crime, helping revive her neighborhood crime watch and acting as a liaison between police officers at the Dallas Police Department’s Northeast Operations Division and neighborhood residents.

“I’ve always stood by what I’ve said in the past – that if you’re not safe and happy where you live, then it’s harder to focus on other aspects of your life,” Pair says.

Keeping Mayberry Safe

Pair says her Lake Highlands home is in a neighborhood similar to the one in which Andy and Opie Griffith lived, and she intends to keep it that way.

“This is Mayberry R.F.D. When I asked what the problems were in the neighborhood, I heard things like: Well, the squirrels are really out of hand, and there’s an occasional car theft,” Pair says.

But no matter how safe a neighborhood may seem, residents should become involved in the place they live, Pair says.

Pair jokingly describes the five years spent in a historic section of a St. Louis inner-city neighborhood as “doing time.”

Pair says she watched drug and prostitution deals occur in front of her home. Burglaries and muggings were common, and crack houses had infiltrated the neighborhood.

“It was a very volatile situation – I call it urban pioneering,” Pair says.

“We learned quickly how important neighborhood unity is.”

But the struggle to stay safe began to take a toll on the couple, and Pair says she was becoming paranoid.

“It was a ridiculous was to live,” she says.

Husband Terry was offered a job at a Dallas advertising agency, so the Pairs packed their bags and moved to our neighborhood.

The couple eventually sold their two-story Victorian-style house in St. Louis to the manager of the Grateful Dead, Pair says.

“We were ready for a change,” Pair says.

“There is a real sense of neighborhood here – I know half of my neighbors,” Pair says.

Pair says she was asked to manage a dwindling crime watch group shortly after moving into the neighborhood. Within a few weeks, she and other members solicited more than $800, and a board of directors was formed.

“I guess they really wanted a crime watch group,” Pair says.

Today, nearly 75 percent of the neighborhood’s 470 homeowners are members of the crime watch group. The group has a monthly newsletter and maintains a voice mail system allowing residents to stay abreast of neighborhood crime information.

The organization holds monthly meetings, social events and an annual Christmas party in an effort to keep communication open between residents and police officers. Every month, volunteers bake cookies and deliver them to the Northeast police officers.

On April 1, the neighborhood will begin the “Volunteers in Patrol Program.” Residents will be trained by Dallas police officers during a special class, learning to look for and report suspicious activity in their neighborhood.

Except for an occasional burglary or auto theft, Pair says few serious crimes occur in Lake Highlands Area 1066.

She credits the crime watch program for keeping the neighborhood safe.

People shouldn’t wait until they are a crime victim to join a neighborhood watch group, Pair says.

“Some people wait until right after a burglary, and then they sign up. I’m a big believer in prevention,” Pair says.

A Commitment To Crime Prevention

Madeline Jones, who co-chairs a nearby Lake Highlands Crime Watch group with her husband Kenneth, has helped Pair with various crime prevention projects, including the compilation of material for a book and map of all the crime watch groups in the Northeast area.

“J.J. is a very dedicated, hard worker – she pours herself into it,” Jones says.

“She’s also been there for moral support.”

Crawford, the Northeast Crime Prevention Supervisor, says community involvement has significantly increased because citizens are inspired by Pair’s energy and belief that police officers can’t fight crime alone.

“Instead of complaining about crime and saying, ‘oh, the police can take care of that,’ J.J. gets in there and makes a difference,” Crawford says.

Crawford says Pair has a good working relationship with officers at the Northeast Division because she doesn’t interfere and is always willing to do what is asked of her, no matter how menial the task.

“There’s a comfort in knowing that if I don’t have someone around here to do something, then J.J. would do it,” Crawford says.

In addition to overseeing the division’s quarterly newsletter, Pair assists in coordinating crime-prevention workshops and keeps an updated database of Northeast crime watch programs. Pair also helped organize a graffiti paint-out and has been instrumental in planning the annual safety fair, which is scheduled May 18.

More importantly, Pair lets officers know from a citizen’s standpoint what needs to be done to better serve the community, Crawford says.

“I had an officer from another department in the City ask me how to get their crime watch program going, and I said the first thing you need to do is find a citizen like J.J. Pair.”

In addition to her work at the police station, Pair serves as treasurer for the newly formed NEON (Northeast Organized Neighbors).

Formed in January, the goal of NEON is to bring together the residents, neighborhood crime watches and businesses in Northeast Dallas to fight crime and make each neighborhood safe and secure.

The organization has applied for non-profit status and will help raise funds for the Northeast Division, Pair says.

Pair says many other volunteers also deserve the recognition she has been given. She says NEON President Larry Jones, Vice President Patty Smith and Cindy Barrett are among the neighborhood volunteers who give unselfishly to fight crime. All helped Pair organize Northeast’s first-ever safety fair last year.

“By no means did I do these things alone,” Pair says.

Softball and More

Pair also worked with Barrett to form the P.A.K.T. (Police And Kids Together) softball league that pits cops against young gang members. Barrett, who heads a crime watch group in Casa View Oaks, had complained for months of gang problems plaguing the neighborhood when the two came up with an idea for a league as an alternative to gang activity.

“I said: Who says we can’t play softball and get these police officers to play, too,” Pair says.

Before long, Pair and Barrett had recruited enough police officers and gang members to field four teams. Harry Stone Recreation Center agreed to let the group use its facility for the games. Riddell Corp. of Fort Worth donated 25 pairs of cleats, and Rawlings sent 26 softball gloves to team members.

Barrett says the league wouldn’t have been possible without Pair’s efforts.

“She makes you believe what you’re doing is well worth it,” Barrett says.

Sgt. P.T. Barnum, who recruits Northeast officers for the league, says P.A.K.T. give police and gang members a chance to understand one another.

“We want to show them that we’re not always the bad guy,” Barnum says.

“We learned that once they get away from their gangs, they are just like any other kid,” Barnum says.

Barnum says he’s heard rumors that some of the kids have continued to play despite orders from gang leaders to quit the league.

The Book On Crime

Out of all the projects in which she is involved, Pair says she is proudest of the Dallas Crime Watch Resource manual.

The manual includes just about everything there is to know about citizen crime prevention, including instructions about starting a neighborhood watch group. Pair wrote a similar manual for the Northeast Division and suggested doing a City-wide version while she served on the seven-member Crime Watch Executive Board of Dallas Police Department Chief Ben Click.

Pair and board member Ruth Garelis spent about eight months writing the manual.

“I’m very proud of this – it’s something we needed, and it was a long time coming,” Pair says.

Her latest accomplishment includes organizing the Texas Cities Action Plan Resource Center. The Center, which has yet to find a home, will act as a library of information concerning crime prevention efforts throughout Dallas.

Northeast Police Chief John Martinez says he asked Pair to manage the center because he knows she is dedicated enough to see that it is run properly.

A Partnership That Works

“I have a lot of volunteers, but not quite with the vigor that J.J. has,” Martinez says.

“She’s not here for the glamour – she is here at the station every week doing the stuff nobody wants to do.”

Pair’s passion outside of volunteerism is racquetball. She plays three times of week at the White Rock Athletic Club, and even taught Martinez how to play the sport. The two play at least twice a week and have a standing Friday night “cut-throat” game with Pair’s husband.

“She’s just as tenacious on the court as she is off the court. But she still can’t beat me,” Martinez jokes.

Terry Pair, a creative director at Larkin, Meader and Schweidel, says he admires his wife’s volunteerism and efforts to reduce crime.

“It would be easy if I were in her shoes to spend time on things that are self-absorbed – J.J. doesn’t do that,” Pair says.

“I think it’s marvelous that she does what she does,” he says.

Martinez says the number of neighborhood watch groups has jumped from 65 to about 95 because of Pair’s commitment to crime prevention. And those programs are now better-organized, he says.

Martinez says Pair was honored by the police department for her community service recently with the Citizens Certificate of Merit.

Martinez says volunteers like Pair are essential in the fight against crime.

“Volunteers are one of our biggest assets,” Martinez says.

“I think J.J. has grasped the concept that if we want to change our neighborhoods, then we have to do it in a partnership with the police.”

That’s something Pair says she already knows.

“They (police) absolutely and positively need the interaction with the community. Our tax dollars pay for the police, so it’s important for us to understand and help them instead of blindly saying: Why haven’t you done this and that,” Pair says.

“If everybody would work for the common goal, it’s amazing how much could get accomplished.”