11/09/05 — Neighbors watching out for neighbors

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Neighbors watching out for neighbors

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 9, 2005 1:48 PM

Vigilant and observant neighbors helping other neighbors -- that could be the theme of the 3-year-old Walnut Creek Crime Watch program.

From a dozen people at an organizational meeting July, 11, 2002, the program has grown to 17 block captains and many others who attend monthly meetings.

"All the residents are members, because they look out for each other," Village Police Chief Delisa C. Staps said.

"Our basic thing is that we encourage people to be observant," Crime Watch Chairman Tom Shaw said.

Block captains and members help the two-officer police department by patrolling the village's 9.3 miles of paved roads and reporting any suspicious activities or vehicles to the officers or to 911 dispatchers.

The Crime Watch members "have been an extension of us," Chief Staps said. "They've been our eyes and ears. The biggest reason that we want to recognize them is because they've had such an impact. If there is a major crime, they have been vigilant."

Two residents saw a suspicious vehicle after a break-in at a home on Mill Road and called 911. Thieves stole about $320,000 worth of property. The calls helped officers find two people who were arrested later and charged with the crime.

Shaw said a member has seen something as insignificant as the lights left on a vehicle in a driveway. The member called the resident and alerted him. Chief Staps said another heard a fire alarm at a home and notified the block captain and the chairman who had the resident's phone numbers. The resident was called. It turned out to be a false alarm. Shaw also said most members have e-mail and check theirs regularly for alerts from the police.

The Walnut Creek program recently obtained a grant so that members could attach decals to their vehicles and give out reflective armbands to joggers and walkers.

Shaw explained that if a member sees a jogger or walker at dusk or dawn, he will stop, introduce himself and give them an armband so that they can be seen more easily by passing motorists.

"This is one of the most active Crime Watch groups I've seen as far as people joining and contributing," Village Manager Lou Cook said.

To inform the members about the work of law-enforcement, the Crime Watch has speakers at their programs every other month. Deputies from the Sheriff's Office's dog teams, dive team and Aggressive Criminal Enforcement Team and 911 supervisor Delbert Edwards have spoken at the third-Tuesday-night monthly meetings at Walnut Creek Country Club. Business is conducted at the other meetings.

As a spin-off, Crime Watch members also formed the county's first Community Emergency Response Team that would assist rescue, fire and law-enforcement personnel in responding to threats of terrorism, natural disasters and crime. The members completed a 21-hour course that was taught by the county's Emergency Services officials.

"Some said this wouldn't work," Chief Staps said. "But we've been going strong since 2002, and it's done nothing but grow."