by Cheryl Senn
“Community Watch, Block Watch, Neighborhood Watch, Apartment Watch, Crime Watch – no matter what it’s called, this is one of the most effective and least costly answers to crime,” states the first lines on the Starting a Community Watch handout that is included in the Sanger Community Watch Program (SCWP) informational packet.
More than 20 members of the Walton Avenue neighborhood block gathered together on a recent Sunday evening to meet with Sanger Police Department officers to organize a Community Watch Group (CWG).
“I think this was awesome. It’s actually, I guess you could say, overdue,” said Walton Avenue resident David Lucero about starting a CWG on his block.
Andrew and Randra Ratzlaff invited all 22 neighboring households that live along Walton Avenue to attend the SCWP meeting, in hopes of organizing a CWG. According to Ratzlaff, more than half of her neighbors attended. Ratzlaff said she knew most of her neighbors before the SCWP meeting.
Randra said she was motivated to get a SCWP meeting scheduled when one of her neighbors had their home broken into. “It’s heartbreaking to see that go on. When that happened we had three families that stayed and helped and helped him clean up and it showed we cared. Then I thought, we need to get something organized and get more people involved. Because I know most people want to help, they just don’t have that outlet. Once somebody starts something, everybody joins, then everybody can be a part.”
Randra, along with her husband, Andrew, will be CWG Walton Avenue Block Captains.
According to Sanger Police Department Community Service Officer Paul Welch, the ultimate goal of the SCWP is to have established watch groups all over the City of Sanger. “The benefit is not just to lower crime but have a higher quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Welch. Interest in forming CWG is spreading and not limited to any particular part of town.
Sanger Police Department Officer Tom Reinhart spoke to the Walton neighbors, along with Officer Henry Diaz who addressed the Spanish speaking Walton residents. Reinhart also invited the newly formed CWG to attend the upcoming National Night Out.
“The benefit of organizing a community watch group in this neighborhood is so the neighbors can get to know each other,” said Reinhart. “If they see something that’s not right they can, you know, be able to feel free to contact their neighbor because they’ve had meetings, they’ve had get-togethers, and they know each other.”
During the SCWP meeting, Reinhart and Diaz provided information on the May 2012 crime report and guided the Walton Avenue CWG through the information in the SCWP packet. Reinhart stressed the importance of filling out the Phone Tree and sharing it with all the neighbors. Reinhart also went over door locks and the point of entry for most break-ins. Reinhart also emphasized the importance of having a functional smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector.
Safety is a top priority and being observant of your surroundings is important in a CWG. How a CWG member handles a situation can differ depending on whether it is daytime or nighttime.
“When observing a person leaving a neighbors home, think about how tall they are, think about how they look, think about what they are wearing,” continued Reinhart. “If you get a look at their face, do they have a mustache, beard? Length of hair. Start looking at their shirt, pants, tennis shoes, boots. Start thinking about that.”
Reinhart encouraged the CWG members to practice describing people they encounter everyday, in their mind. “If you keep doing that, it will make you a good observer eventually.”
The Sanger Police Department put together handouts, flyers, and even designed signage that reflects more pride in the Sanger community than the generic national programs provided and is more user friendly, according to Welch. That material is what is included in the SCWP informational packet.
Once a neighborhood or block has an organized CWG, the officers continue to be involved with the group. “Community Watch is a partnership between the residence and police department,” said Welch. “Once a group has been started, officers regularly help with home safety suggestions, child seat inspections and various other crime prevention activities, depending on what a particular group has asked for.”
Reinhart encouraged the Walton Avenue CWG to keep communicating with the Sanger Police Department officers. “If you come up with a question and we’ve already left, don’t hesitate to call the police department.” Reinhart also said the voicemails and emails are good ways of communicating with the officers as well. “We’re trying to make it as easy as we can for you guys.”
Reinhart stated that it is not difficult to set up a SCWP meeting.
“It’s really easy to do. It was one phone call to the Sanger Police Department, to Jaimy Gaines, and she sent me everything out,” said Randra, who then invited her neighbors to a SCWP meeting at her home and offered light refreshments.
Reinhart said he hopes the CWG idea will trickle to other parts of the neighborhood surrounding Walton Avenue. “It could keep on going. This whole area eventually could all be set up. It’s great. The more eyes we have out there and the more stuff that we can see, that you guys can see and report to us, you never know what can happen once people start being more and more involved.”
“Like Randi said, it’s very important for the neighborhood to get together,” added Lucero, “especially we’re one block, but if we can get it, like the officer said to the other blocks behind us, it will actually make our homes and our block very safe, in this area,”.