03/12/07 — Groups take aim at crime

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Groups take aim at crime

By Lee Williams
Published in News on March 12, 2007 1:51 PM

When cars started to drive up to a home on Green Street in Fremont at all hours of the day and night, Jenny and Dan Blanchard grew curious.

But instead of dismissing the activity, the Blanchards decided to report the suspected drug den to police. Sure enough, their suspicions were confirmed and authorities quickly stepped in to address the problem.

Ms. Blanchard, a 48-year-old respiratory therapist, knows what she did took courage. She knows some would see the same activity and ignore it simply because they didn't want to get involved.

But not her. Not only is Ms. Blanchard working to keep criminals out of her neighborhood, she also helps others fight crime in their neighborhoods as part of the Fremont Crime Watch.

Last summer, Ms. Blanchard and her neighbor, Dr. Amy Price, helped restart the Fremont Crime Watch, which had waned over the years, and so far interest and participation have been encouraging, she said.

"I went to a town meeting to see what the town consisted of. They were talking about the Crime Watch and they asked Amy Price to start it back up," Ms. Blanchard said.

Dr. Price asked Ms. Blanchard to join her, and she agreed.

Ms. Blanchard, who moved to Fremont last year, was a newcomer. The former Rocky Mount resident saw the Fremont Crime Watch as a chance to turn around a small town tarnished by drugs, gangs and crime.

"I decided to do this for the safety of our little girl, so that she could walk around anywhere she wanted to go," Ms. Blanchard said.

Members of the Walnut Creek Crime Watch helped Ms. Blanchard and Dr. Price organize their group. And members of the Jordan Chapel Crime Watch helped organize the Walnut Creek Crime Watch.

Tom Shaw, past president of the Walnut Creek Crime Watch, loves his watchdog role. Shaw maintains a Web site to keep residents informed. He also patrols the area and keeps an eye out for anything suspicious.

He said the group was especially vigilant on Halloween.

"It's just neighbors looking out for neighbors," Shaw said. "It takes some time (to organize), but you have to have a police chief that is willing to work with the people."

Shaw said Walnut Creek police Chief Delisa Staps supports the Crime Watch and comes to all of the meetings.

Ms. Blanchard, Dr. Price and Shaw are among a growing number of residents who have decided to become victors instead of victims in their community by starting a Neighborhood Watch.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders applauds their efforts and he encourages others to follow suit.

"There was a time when everybody knew their neighbor," Winders said. "This gives them a chance to meet their neighbor at Crime Watch meetings. It gives them a chance to be a nosy neighbor. If you see a moving van, let me know because somebody might be robbing the house."

The Watch Group is a structured organization. Block captains are chosen to watch over a select number of houses in the community. Block captains also send out information to the residents about recent crimes or things to look out for. Groups often meet monthly or quarterly.

Winders has deputies on hand at the sheriff's office to help residents who would like to start a Neighborhood Watch.

"When people put forth the effort, Crime Watches do work," Winders said. "It takes people. We provide the tools, but we need the people to help us."

Many small towns like Fremont find it difficult to retain officers based on the current pay scale, and residents like Ms. Blanchard and Dr. Price serve as extra eyes and ears for the department, Winders said.

The best Crime Watch groups remain vigilant and active, Winders said. He said just nailing Neighborhood Watch placards to a pole is simply not enough.

"We want to see more than just a sign on a pole," Winders said. "We want to see them active."

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the Neighborhood Watch concept was launched in 1972. The National Sheriffs' Association sponsored the idea.

The NCPC specifies Watch groups are not vigilantes and should not assume the role of the police.

"Their duty is to ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police," according to NCPC's Web site.