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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Something strange in your neighborhood? Organize a watch group

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If there's something strange in your neighborhood ...

Who you gonna call?

If there's something weird, and it don't look good ...

Who you gonna call?

Of course, you're probably tempted to shout out Ghostbusters, as the old Ray Parker Jr. lyrics might imply.

But City Police Chief Tom Sutherlin is hoping Greencastle residents take things more seriously, and neighborhoods become more vigilant, watchful and concerned about what is going on around them.

Having hinted at the possibility of creating a Neighborhood Watch Program several times in recent weeks -- especially in the aftermath of the fatal late-August attack on 85-year-old Essie McVey in her Autumn Glen Village Condos home and the eye-opening home break-ins along East Washington Street -- Chief Sutherlin rolled out the idea to Third Ward citizens at a recent meeting at Greencastle Middle School.

First of all, he stressed that a Neighborhood Crime Watch program is a completely voluntary effort organized by concerned citizens hoping to reduce crime in their area.

"It's not something you have to do," Sutherlin said, explaining that GPD is ready, willingly and able to assist any Greencastle neighborhood in organizing the effort.

"It can be small," he said. "It doesn't have to be the whole Third Ward. It might just be Walnut Street or as small as Ottawa Mobile Home Park.

"It puts the ball in your court," the chief added.

After all, neighbors know their communities better than police officers, Sutherlin said.

"If you see something out of place, something or somebody suspicious in your neighborhood or a suspicious vehicle, get the license number. Get as much information as you can give us. The more description you can provide, the more it helps us out."

He suggested going around the area and making a list of what neighbors perceive as problems, such as trash, run-down property, abandoned vehicles, graffiti or even crime itself.

"I'm not going to tell you we don't have gangs in our community," Chief Sutherlin said. "We just don't see a lot of signs of it. We know we have a drug problem, just like every other community."

Neighborhood Watch groups aren't meant to tackle those problems head-on, but their very presence can serve as deterrent, while the info supplied to police might yield the vital link in defusing an actual or potential problem. The policing of the matter is still left to the police.

Local law enforcement officers can help train volunteers in home security and reporting techniques as part of the program. GPD has offered to help groups coordinate neighborhood efforts.

Crime Watch areas also can consider putting up signage that heralds their creation, much as individual homeowners put up signs when they employ a home security system like ADP. Signs alone can be a deterrent, Sutherlin said, but are not required as part of the overall effort.

"It's not my goal to litter your neighborhood with a bunch of signs," he said, suggesting the possibility that grants for neighborhood signage might be available through organizations like the Putnam County Community Foundation.

Sutherlin said that beyond contacting his department for help in getting a Neighborhood Watch program started, there are a few other simple steps to pursue:

-- Selecting a coordinator and block captains who will be responsible for relaying information to members and organizing meetings.

-- Recruiting people and keeping track of new and old members, involving everyone in the neighborhood, including young people, single adults, working parents and the elderly.

"What's the most important thing here?" Mayor Sue Murray asked the residents in attendance. "If you are interested, get in touch with Chief Sutherlin and have a second meeting. Make a list of neighborhood issues and get started."

Dates for additional city ward meetings for first, second and fourth ward residents have not been announced.

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