06/27/07 — Pikeville Crime Watch sets sights on keeping criminals out of town

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Pikeville Crime Watch sets sights on keeping criminals out of town

By Lee Williams
Published in News on June 27, 2007 1:45 PM

Former Wayne County Magistrate Judge Patricia Williams knows what can happen to a community when neighbors turn a blind eye to crime.

Drug dealers, prostitutes, gang members and other undesirables thrive in communities when residents don't take an active role, she said, and she refuses to let her neighborhood become another statistic.

So, with the blessing of K.D. Vaughn, pastor of Elm Grove Church of Christ Disciples of Christ in Pikeville, Miss Williams and 14 others formed the Booker Street Neighborhood Community Watch Program in July 2004.

And, today that group comprised of Miss Williams, who serves as president; Zola Johnson, historian; Pete Holden, treasurer; and Paula McCullough, secretary, is still thriving.

The group organized to send a strong message that crime will not be tolerated there. But the group's mission is not only about fighting crime. It is also about building a stronger community.

"We felt like it was a good way to bring the community together and report suspicious activity," Miss Williams said. "We wanted to deter crime as well as look out for our neighborhood."

Crime is not a major problem in the town of about 719 residents.

In fact, Pikeville police Chief Ken Barrett confirmed the town's crime rate is one of the lowest in Wayne County.

But that's the point, Miss Williams said.

"We did this to avoid that," she said.

Miss Williams said it's important for residents to get involved in their community -- before crime becomes unmanageable.

In her community, neighbors can call each other by name, so it's quite easy to spot an outsider. And when they see something that just doesn't look right, the members start dialing.

"We are not here to rat anybody out or snitch on everybody," she said. "We just want to promote a safe community."

Targeting residents who take a stand against crime is against North Carolina law. Harassment of anyone who participates in a Neighborhood Watch Program is punishable by a $300 fine.

Booker Street is comprised of several homeowners, many of whom are elderly. And the group's goal is to protect the historic community.

"We not only want to take a bite out of crime, but we want to promote community awareness and unity," Miss Williams said.

The group holds monthly meeting.

In addition to discussing pressing crime issues of the day, Crime Watch members also participate in many activities throughout the year including the annual community Booker Street Dinner and Pikeville parade.

They also sponsor neighborhood cleanups and donate Thanksgiving baskets to a local nursing home.

"We adopted three families," she said.

But their work doesn't stop there.

"We recently had our speed limit reduced from 35 to 25 mph for the safety of the community," she said. U.S. 117 North "is a long highway and people would zoom down the street."

Due to a lack of participation, many neighborhood watch groups die.

Miss Williams keeps a busy schedule, but she said she always makes time for the group because her community is at stake.

"It's about looking out for others and respecting other people's property," she said. "It's not about telling. We encourage and challenge communities to start a neighborhood watch group because the groups have so much to offer."