'Watch' is key word, residents told

Staff Writer

They are best known for deterring crime. But Neighborhood Watch programs do far more, including everything from selling houses and improving property values to bringing subdivisions together into communities.

That was the message the West Point Police and Clay County Sheriff's Departments told about a dozen residents during a Neighborhood Watch organizational meeting.

But even the small group already is generating interest, from building on the city's only active Neighborhood Watch group to sparking interest in reviving an old one to starting a new one.

"It's the greatest thing we've ever done. I wish more people would start them," Susie Marshall said of the Neighborhood Watch program she and her neighbors started three years ago in the Stevens Grove Road area off South Eshman Avenue.

"I didn't realize it, but we already have Neighborhood Watch signs up in our subdivision. But I guess it's fallen by the wayside. My wife and I want to get it started again," said Victor Suggs who lives in The Meadows, a small subdivision on a dead-end street a stone's throw from West Point High School.

"We need one bad, it's something we definitely need to do. We've got a lot of foot traffic that goes through our neighborhood," stated Brady Davis, who lives on Tournament Street just off Court Street, a neighborhood on the edge of downtown mixed with young newcomers and long-time residents.

And it's not about residents becoming vigilantes. Rather, it's about becoming another crime-fighting tool while improving the community one street at a time.

"We can't be everywhere. We don't want you to take things into your own hands, but you are another set of eyes and ears," West Point Police Capt. Virginia Rich told the group.

"The hardest part is getting started, but once you do it, you'll start seeing the benefits, it will grow," added Lt. Albert Lee, who also advised residents not to become armed patrols.

"Our number one goal is safety. We don't want you to step in harm's way. But you all know what goes on in your neighborhood, you know when something or someone is out of place. Call 911, that's the strength of Neighborhood Watch, people looking out for their neighbors," Lee continued.

"We're trying to make you aware, not deputize you. These programs can be very important in rural areas where people often live far apart," added Sheriff Eddie Scott. "But if people aren't getting involved, then you end up with nothing but Neighborhood Watch signs and no actual watch. It takes a commitment."

Columbus has a number of Neighborhood Watch programs, some bigger than others. That's how it should work, Rich told residents at the Clay County meeting.

"We started out with a few people from one block along a couple of streets. We started talking and met each other. That was a big thing, just meeting each other," said Columbus resident Brennan Dockery when asked about a program in her neighborhood.

"We take down tag numbers, flag speeders, we take our phones when we walk so we can call if something happens, we let each other know when we are out of town," Dockery added.

Those attending the meeting offered their own anecdotal evidence on what got them started or why they see the need. And Scott, Rich and Lee offered plenty of real-case insight on how thieves get clever and creative.

"We got started because we had someone knock on our door at 2 a.m. one night. They kept knocking. At the time, we kept all our lights off so we think they were checking to see if anyone was home. We called police and didn't answer the door. When police got there, they didn't find anybody, but that got us started," Marshall recalled.

Since then, more neighbors have added alarms and some even have surveillance cameras. They and others have added lighting and leave it on at nights, all tips they've learned from their involvement with Neighborhood Watch.

They also alert each other when they are out of town, have a text notification system, and communicate regularly, Marshall added.

Rich told the story questioning a suspicious car in her neighborhood because it had four people in it and kept circling the block. Turns out they were looking at a house for sale and wanted to scout out the neighborhood.

"They appreciated the attentiveness of the neighbors," Rich said.

While alarms and dogs are good deterrents, the best thing is to have nosy neighbors, they said. One such neighbor helped police solve a string of 41 car burglaries simply by paying attention and reporting it.

And don't doubt thieves, Scott said, telling the story of an Aberdeen man who stopped at a home off Highway 50 East for five straight days and fed five guard dogs bread and bologna.

"At he end of the fifth day, he said those mean dogs almost licked him to death," Scott said of the story the burglar told investigators after he was caught. "When you hear things like that, it reminds you of why these kinds of programs can make a difference," Marshall noted.

"We've got to stop waiting on the police to do it all," Davis concluded.

Anyone interested in finding out more about starting a Neighborhood Watch program on their street or neighborhood can call Rich or Lee at 662-494-1244.