When drug dealers and gang leaders began claiming the territory on both sides of Annie Miller's east Aurora home in the mid-1990s, she almost decided to move. But then, she thought, "let them move."
She turned down a bribe from a gang lord offering her money and anything she needed, and she stayed in her home.
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"If he could claim it, so could I," she said about Loucks Street, the site of her home.
The decision not to run from gangs and crime marked the beginning of Miller's working relationship with the Aurora Police Department, a role she continues as a Neighborhood Watch captain. And her work to clean up Loucks Street, and later, View Street on the city's west side, where she now lives, makes police officers like Sgt. Jeff Wiencek thankful for her bravery and concern for the community.
"I felt that someone had to do it," said Miller, 71. "It was just something somebody needed to do and I realized no one else was going to do it."
Miller said her Loucks Street house was shot at more than once, and its front window shattered by bricks every time members of a certain gang would walk by.
"I didn't let that get me afraid because first of all, I'm a believer. I've got a lot of faith," said Miller, who is an ordained minister and attends New Heart Worship Center on Jericho Road.
Wiencek said he and other police officers value Miller's firsthand knowledge of neighborhood happenings.
"It's nice to have an insight into what's going on on the streets and how we are being perceived in the community," Wiencek said. "It's nice to have an honest opinion on what's happening. It's also nice to have a person who is always out there, who's never afraid of the repercussions that happen afterwards."
Miller said she endured crimes, threats and bribes because she knew no one else would stand up to the people who were making the neighborhood dangerous for children. Miller's own children 39, 45 and 47 were adults when she began working to "clean up the street."
"Nobody was doing anything because a lot of the people was customers," she said. "I was the only one who called police. There was no one else who wanted to get involved."
Miller knows she's made some enemies over time. But other neighbors, like Vickie Lyons who lives near Miller's current View Street home, recognize the value of her cooperation and communication with police.
"She watches out for all kinds of illegal activity and has a very good relationship with the police department," Lyons said. "The streets are nice and quiet now."
Mayor Thomas Weisner and former Mayor Daniel Stover both have honored Miller with certificates of special recognition for her community service.
"The mayor and chief of police all have been to my house," she said. "My house is known."
And those who know Miller say her energy and enthusiasm for helping people make it easy to forget she's in her 70s.
"She's a trip. Spunky, we call her," said apostle Rosa Buford, a leader at Miller's church.
Miller's three children have given her about 20 grandchildren, many of whom live in the Aurora area. So Miller, who works part time as an in-home caregiver, said she doesn't see herself stopping her efforts to stop drug dealers from selling and gangbangers from operating.
"She's too hyper," Lyons said. "She won't stop."