Lawmen offer tips on watch programs
By Gary Popp
Published in News on April 5, 2012 1:46 PM
In the wake of the shooting involving a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer and a teenager, a public dialogue has begun over what is the proper behavior for those who sign up to watch over their communities.
Officials with the Goldsboro Police Department and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office who organize neighborhood watch programs advise citizens to always contact authorities by calling 911 when they see suspicious behavior or individuals in their communities and to never attempt to stop a crime or to detain a potential suspect.
GPD Cpl. Ronald McDuffie and Wayne County sheriff's deputy Sgt. Brandy Jones are active in helping groups of concerned community members create watch programs.
"We always tell them to call 911. Don't ever approach anyone and don't take actions into your own hands," Mrs. Jones said. "You don't know if that person has a weapon on them or their mental stability, or if they are going to injure you or not."
"We at no time advise these people to confront (a suspect). What they need to do is call 911 and report suspicious activity," he said.
The lawmen said the best function a neighborhood program can serve is to provide information to authorities who can't be everywhere at all times.
"We are not there all the time as law enforcement. We can't see everything (the public) can see. We sometimes depend on them to be our eyes and ears," McDuffie said.
He said if a person sees what appears to be suspicious activity, the appropriate action is to call 911 and to provide as much descriptive information as possible to the dispatch operator.
Mrs. Jones and McDuffie emphasized that people should not be concerned that the suspicious activity they report could end up being a false alarm.
"No matter what it is, if you feel like something is out of the ordinary, call it in. That is our job to check that out. No matter if it comes out to be nothing, you still rely on your instincts and let us know so we can go and check it out," McDuffie said.
Mrs. Jones said citizens should remember the mantra of better safe than sorry if they are questioning themselves about contacting law enforcement.
"Never be hesitant to call," she said.
McDuffie said the presence of active watch programs opens the lines of communication between lawmen and citizens.
He said if there is known crime taking place in an area, such as a rash of car break-ins, the police can notify surrounding watch program members to be on the lookout for similar activity in their neighborhoods.
"As law enforcement we want to prevent crime. We depend on neighborhood watch to help us do that. And we, in turn, supply them with information to help us," he said.
McDuffie and Mrs. Jones said law enforcement officials offer guidance, especially in the early phase of forming the neighborhood watch program, but it is up to the citizens to make the program effective.
"The keys to a successful neighborhood watch program would be the watch members," McDuffie said
Mrs. Jones said participation is the No. 1 attribute of an effective neighborhood watch, and if people lose interest, the program will fail.
"It all depends on the people," she said. "If they will work together it will stay active and stay strong. If you don't have the people to keep it up, it fades away."
While some neighborhood watch programs are organized without the guidance of lawmen, interested residents should contact authorities to get a program started and for periodic guidance.
"The ideal situation is if you come through us so we can give you what the guidelines are and how you should operate, as opposed to setting up something on your own," McDuffie said.
Both Mrs. Jones and McDuffie said a neighborhood watch can serve as a valuable resource to help prevent crime and to apprehend suspects.
The information a citizen provides to police can be the difference between a crime being solved and suspects never being identified, McDuffie said.
City residents can contact Crime Prevention division at the Police Department at (919)580-4252 to get information, and county residents can call (919) 705-6584 to receive guidance from the Sheriff's Office.