Sand Hills is not the neighborhood Betty Tyler once knew.
Her sense of security has been shaken by the flashing lights of police cruisers, groups of men on street corners and the pit bulls neighbors have bought for protection.
"There didn't used to be so much crime," Tyler said Wednesday afternoon during a game of keno at the Sand Hills Community Center.
Other women at the table said they didn't feel safe going out at night anymore, including Louise Garrett, whose parked car was hit by a bullet a few weeks ago.
Crime was blamed for a downturn in business that eventually led to this week's closing of the WifeSaver restaurant on Highland Avenue. In November, an employee at the restaurant was shot during a robbery, then a teenager was shot on Wheeler Road a few weeks later.
The president of WifeSaver said fewer customers came after that, especially after dark.
People who live in Sand Hills, a neighborhood of chain-link fences and narrow roads north of Walton Way, point to the men congregating on street corners as the source of their problems.
Tim Wilson started a nonprofit foundation five years ago called Sand Hills Urban Development Inc. to help renovate homes and blighted areas with grant money. Wilson doesn't think the crime is as bad as it's made out to be.
"It's nothing too serious," he said
Records from the past three years show that 2008 was actually the worst year for crime within a half-mile of the WifeSaver, according to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. But 2010 was a rebound year for most crimes after a lull in 2009.
For instance, simple battery went from 38 in 2008, to 19 in 2009, back up to 31 in 2010; aggravated assaults over three years went from 10 to two to eight.
Burglaries and auto thefts peaked in 2010 with 30 and 18 crimes, respectively. Wilson said those types of crimes could easily be thwarted if more people participated in the neighborhood watch.
Andrena Carpenter, the president of the Sand Hills Neighborhood Association, said a dwindling neighborhood population and apathy are causing crime.
Sand Hills is home to an older population, and as people die there's no one left to take care of the vacant homes, Carpenter said. That leaves fewer eyes for the crime watch, and as a result gangs and drug dealers from other neighborhoods are drifting into Sand Hills, she said.
The other problem is people who don't care what their front yards look like, particularly those living in government-supported housing, Carpenter said.
"They won't cooperate with you and keep their yards clean," she said.
Not everyone is intimidated by what's happening after dark. Alice Stills has lived on Mount Auburn Street for years and doesn't plan to change her schedule for anybody.
"If I want to go out, I will," she said.
Staff Writer Bianca Cain contributed to this report.