Authorities pitching citizen help programs

Published 6:58 pm Thursday, August 5, 2010

How safe is your neighborhood?

If you saw a crime and wanted to report it, do you know who tocall?

There are answers to these questions, and local authorities areworking together to raise public awareness about two programs thatwill make people more alert about what’s taking place in the worldaround them.

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Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson and Lincoln County SheriffSteve Rushing said the Neighborhood Watch Program and theCrimestoppers program are two valuable tools that allow people toself-police their neighborhoods and the world around them.

Currently there is a Lincoln County Crimestoppers number in place,Rushing said, but it operates through a statewide office. He saidhe and Henderson are working to establish a more local program,though the details on that are still sketchy.

“You can call in your tips now, but it goes through the state topay the rewards,” he said. “That’s something we’re trying to workon – deciding if we’re going to keep it in Brookhaven and LincolnCounty, or if we’re going to join four other counties in it.”

The decision does somewhat hinge on the fact that if the programstays more local, more people have to be appointed to theCrimestoppers board, Henderson said.

“We have to have members of the board if we go locally, but if wejoin Pike and the other counties, we would only have four membersto appoint,” he said.

Henderson and Rushing would both also serve on the board, eitherway the decision goes.

Crimestoppers is a great tool and asset to investigators because itgives people a chance to say things they might not say if theirname or face were associated, Henderson said. Gathering tips can bea problem when people are afraid or simply won’t get involved inpreventing and solving crimes, he said.

“Sometimes they’re too selfish, and they only think aboutthemselves,” he said. “If it doesn’t involve them, they’re notbothered with it.”

That’s because they don’t want to be involved with informing andthe legal processes sometimes, he said.

But the fact that these decisions are being made doesn’t hinder thepublic from calling the current Lincoln County Crimestoppers numberat 601-823-0150.

“The program is up and going, it’s available now,” he said.

Neighborhood Watch also puts a little bit of the power in the handsof the citizens, officials said.

Henderson said there are a few groups interested in starting theprogram in the city, and that it’s primarily handled through thesheriff’s department.

“If your neighborhood wants the Neighborhood Watch, just get agroup together and we’ll get you the information you need,” hesaid.

Administrative Assistant to the Sheriff and Lincoln County DeputyKrysten Butler said the program starts with one interestedperson.

“One person calls and lets me know, and we give them the basicinformation,” she said. “We see how many neighbors you have, you’llneed a block or two, and you’ll find a block captain.”

That, Butler said, gives people in the neighborhood a point personto somewhat keep up with the goings on of the neighborhood and whatwatch members will need to know.

“The goal is to give them one specified person they can call abouta suspicious person, or vandalism, or whatever’s going on,” shesaid. “And we can put the information out there to them to let themknow what to look for.”

When the group is pulled together, officials will come give apresentation and let them know how to better look out for theirfriends and neighbors.

“We’re glad both the police department and the sheriff’s departmentcan work together to get the citizens involved with this,” Butlersaid. “You’re not ever going to completely cut crime out, but ifpeople know what they’re watching for, it’s not as likely tohappen.”

So as the watch groups form, Butler said, people can know thatthey’re actually doing themselves and their neighbors afavor.

“If a criminal knows you’re watching out your windows and gettingcar descriptions, you’re less likely to have crime in that area,”she said. “I’ve spoken to other counties with active NeighborhoodWatches, and they said they see a difference in criminal activity,from dropping trash on the road to straight-up burglary.”

Anyone interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch is encouraged tocall the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at 601-833-5231.