Watch meeting goal to boost awareness

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Local law enforcement is limited to a set number of hands, butit could have thousands and thousands of eyes.

Later this month, Lincoln County deputies and Brookhaven policewill show their citizens how to be alert, organized and in touchwith the law when the two departments host a seminar on theNational Neighborhood Watch Institute, a crime-prevention programthat connects neighbors and law enforcement. Those who attend theconference at First United Methodist Church at 6:30 p.m. onTuesday, Sept. 28, will walk away with the know-how required topull neighbors together and point watchful eyes up and down thestreets of their community.

“(Neighborhood watches) give us an extra set of eyes and earsfor stuff going on in our communities, and it gives neighbors achance to know each other better and know what’s going on in theirneighborhood,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Rushing said a handful of loosely organized watch programs arealready operating in communities around the county, but thoseprograms are mostly one-man shows. At the Sept. 28 meeting,deputies and police will show citizens how to set up an official,organized watch as described in NNWI guidelines.

“You’ve always got people who look out for their neighborhoods,”Rushing said. “But this is official – crime-wise, some people aremore comfortable getting involved in a program than maybe justtalking to their neighbors.”

After the general meeting later this month, interested neighborswill go home and form the basis for a neighborhood watch.

Neighborhood watches are organized in sections, with theneighbors of a certain block or span of streets and roads,depending on the number of interested watchers in an area.

Once those neighbors band together, law enforcement will visittheir community to set up the watch, recording contact information,watch boundaries and meeting the block captain, the watch’s liaisonwith law enforcement. It will be the job of the block captain togather information from the members of his watch and report todeputies or cops.

“Each little community group has its own division that workswith us or the city on whatever problems they may have,” Rushingsaid. “The neighborhood watch program is about keeping informedabout your neighborhood. If you know your neighbor is out of townand you see a car at their house, you know to call us.”

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson said NNWI programs havealways been available in Brookhaven and Lincoln County, butinterest has been low.

He said there are no official NNWI watches in the city, thoughseveral residents of the Halbert Heights community attempted toform a program in 2008 shortly after the disappearance of VirginiaRatcliff, who lived in the area. Residents said the watch was forescalating instances of theft, not Ratcliff’s disappearance.

Now, after a handful of high-profile crimes in 2010 that has thecity and county a bit on edge, more citizens are inquiring aboutkeeping their communities safe.

“The people are calling to ask about it because your (elected)officials have jumped in it, asking for these things to happen,”Henderson said. “We always deal with people who are going to tellus information, we don’t have a lot of experience with neighborhoodwatch.”

Both Henderson and Rushing stressed that members of neighborhoodwatch will always be watchers – forming a program does not givecitizens any kind of law enforcement authority.

“It’s all about communication,” Henderson said. “We’re going tocontinue to do our job with or without a neighborhood watch.”