10/10/05 — Community Watch program being formed in Faison

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Community Watch program being formed in Faison

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 10, 2005 1:46 PM

FAISON -- Faison residents are being urged to join a Crime Watch program that law enforcement officers say will make their community a safer place.

Criminals target small towns with limited law enforcement staff, said Duplin County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Southerland, who spoke last week to a gathering of town residents at the Community Building. He said criminals watch the routines of people to learn the best time to break into homes or businesses.

"They feel more safe and secure in places like this. They settle in and set up shop, and we walk around most of our time in life with blinders on," said Southerland.

Residents can help themselves by joining together to watch for suspicious people and to let authorities know about unusual activities.

"A lot of people think it's just people being nosey. That's not what it is," said Southerland. "It's designed for getting a larger number of eyes looking for anything suspicious and knowing who to contact."

Southerland encouraged residents to trust their instinct about something being not quite right in the neighborhood.

"If you gut instinct tells you something is not right, nine times out of 10, you're right. Call someone," he said. "I'd rather you call if you suspect something and we go there and find out it's not than for you to not call and then we get a call later from by homeowner saying he's been broken into."

Duplin has three active community watch programs. They're in Rones Chapel, Pleasant Grove and Albertson. He said it takes both citizens and law enforcement officers working together to fight crime. Studies have shown that neighborhoods that have active community watch programs experience less crime.

Southerland gave residents tips on how to ward off intruders. They should vary their daily routine so they are not always away from home at the same time. Even neighborhood watch patrols should vary their schedules, he said.

Instead of having the Postal Service hold their mail, they should have a neighbor pick it up, he said. Crooks have learned to watch for mailboxes that are empty for several days.

He recommended calling the police department to do resident patrols more often when you go on vacation, too. He said vacationers should give the key to the house to a neighbor and give the neighbor's telephone number to the police. Tell police when you're going to leave and when you will return and what vehicles will be parked at your home. You can even ask your neighbor to move the vehicle to different places in the yard.

"It sounds like silly things, but these are the kind of things a crook looks for," he said. "Is the vehicle in the same spot several days in a row?"

Southerland told the group Faison needs an active community watch program because it has more people in it than a lot of other towns its size. The Faison Police Department has only two people, he said.

And the county's Sheriff's Office is stretched thin, too, he said. Duplin has about 814 square miles and a population of 50,000 people. But on a good day or a good night, only four people are patrolling the county.

"That's 200 square miles per officer," he said. "That's a big area and a lot of people to be responsible for."

He said neighbors can identify a strange vehicle next door quicker than a deputy patrolling far from his home, where he does know what kind of cars are normally parked at the homes of his neighbors.

"A resident can more easily watch for things out of place, things that do not look right in your community," he said.

He also reminded residents that Community Watch programs are often successful for a time but that residents grow complacent if crime drops or disappears. That's when criminals will return, he warned.

"They don't have the drive they had in the beginning. Community watch groups get up and running, doing good, and they fade away. Then, all you have is the signs."

The Faison group plans to meet at 7 p.m. every second Thursday.

One of he organizers, Lisa Patterson, said it is important for residents to recognize that Faison is not immune to gang activity and criminal behavior.

"It's things that if you don't get them under control, they just get bigger," said Ms. Patterson. "Everybody knows there's drug activity here."