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Police, citizens play key roles in Watch program

Neighbors looking out for neighbors remains a hallmark of close-knit communities, but the ways in which residents do their good deeds continue to change.

     When it comes to looking out for our neighbors, near the top of the most helpful list is crime prevention. Such is the point behind Neighborhood Watch programs, which encourage small groups of residents who live near each other to come together and individually be on the lookout for suspicious persons or other potential criminal activities.

     Like other aspects of everyday life, though, Neighborhood Watch programs can enjoy the benefits – but in some cases, the challenges – of modern communication.

     At a meeting last week of the Vernondale Neighborhood Watch group, residents chatted about using Facebook, email and texting as means of notifying one another about suspicious people or activities going on around their homes. The old standby phone call was mentioned seemingly as an option only for those without Internet access.

     Modern technology provides the tremendous benefit of near instant communication. However, venues such as Facebook also present the risk of becoming a modern-day “gossip fence” where information shared there may or may not be factual and accurate.

     Thankfully, Vernondale residents at the meeting rightly recognized that such rapid dissemination of information comes with an obligation that what is shared be factual. And they showed an understanding of what can happen when it’s not.

     “The last thing we want to do is scare everybody with false information,” said Bob Naeger, a street captain who presided over the meeting.

     While Neighborhood Watch programs are a wonderful way for citizens to be involved in crime prevention, it must be emphasized that they in no way should be considered the primary means of defense.

     That job belongs to law enforcement authorities, be they the police in the city or the sheriff’s department in the county. That point was also emphasized Tuesday.

     “We’re already out there,” Police Chief Pap Henderson told the gathering. “We’ll face the danger if there’s any danger to be faced.” The chief assured residents they are not bothering the police department when they call.

     Call it a perceived lack of importance about their issue or simply a desire not to “bother” anybody, but residents must not let those concerns prevent them from calling law enforcement when they spot something out of the ordinary in their neighborhoods. As Henderson said, officers are already “out there” on patrol and can respond in a matter of minutes.

     If the call turns out to be nothing, then the only thing that has been taken is a few minutes of an officer’s time. If it is something more serious, then the concerned citizen’s call may have been instrumental in preventing a major crime from occurring.

            From citizens to law enforcement, everyone has a role to play when a Neighborhood Watch program forms. And factoring in the timely sharing of accurate information, in all forms, will go a long way toward