Increased crime heightens interest in watch program

Nikiski goes on the prowl

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

Soldotna's done it.

Kenai's done it.

And now Nikiski residents are putting their foot down and declaring that enough's enough.

"Dear Neighbor, This is an invitation to you to help crime-proof our neighborhood," reads a Neighbor-hood Watch information sheet.

On May 23, at a 7 p.m. public meeting at the Nikiski Senior Center, the community's Lions Club will begin organizing a neighborhood watch.

"About every day there's two or three stories of what's happening in Nikiski," said resident Heidi Dominick. "Businesses are being broken into. Homes are being broken into. All kinds of things."

Dominick and her husband, Richard, pointed to the night of May 1 as an example. According to information released by Alaska State Troopers:

n At 10:17 p.m. May 1, troopers received a report of a window being shot out of a vehicle parked on the property of a Nikiski resident;

n At 1:00 a.m. May 2, it was reported to troopers that the front display window of a Nikiski business had been broken out and a four-wheeler and two-wheel mini-bike were stolen;

n At 1:00 a.m. May 2, troopers responded to a call of a stolen vehicle on fire in a vacant lot in Nikiski (the vehicle had been removed from inside a locked fence); and

n At 2:00 a.m. May 2, troopers were contacted regarding a vehicle fire in a Nikiski gravel pit (that vehicle also had been stored inside a locked, fenced-in area).

"There's a lot of interest in this," said Diana Summers, Lions Club secretary. At the club's Tuesday meeting, 20 new members signed up, bringing the membership to 50.

"I go to work sometimes and wonder if my house will have been broken into when I get home at night," said Summers, who has lived in Nikiski for 15 years. "There is so much vandalism that it's ridiculous."

Mike Dale, owner of Dale's Automotive in Nikiski, has borne the brunt of Nikiski hoodlums.

"Community watch works," he said. "It definitely works. I think it's a fantastic idea. We've needed it for a long time."

Curt Morris, owner of M&M Supermarket, said a neighborhood watch is a first step.

"I'm also interested in forming a business co-op for security purposes," Morris said. "We're definitely vulnerable to all kinds of things that happen in the evening out here. We can't expect the state police to take care of everything that comes up every night.

"We're not trying to start a vigilante group out here. We're just trying to give ourselves a little bit of protection, and there's enough of us out here that want to do something."

Durainey Rawls, a 26-year Nikiski resident, remembered an effort to form a community watch in the past.

"Everyone got posters and stickers and signs for the street that said 'neighborhood watch,'"Rawls said. "I hope this time it amounts to more than that because we could use it."

Part of Rawls' concern is based on horror stories like one she was told recently.

"I was talking to a person that was vandalized out here. His house was broken into during the day when he wasn't there," said Rawls.

Items stolen included two hand guns.

"There were neighbors all around him, but no one saw anything. He knew (the vandals) would come back, and they did. But he outsmarted them. He put his stuff in storage."

Another Nikiski resident, Henry Haney, said his neighborhood already has felt the benefits community watch. When Haney moved into his neighborhood eight years ago, an informal neighborly agreement to look out for one another was already in effect.

"It's worked well so far," Haney said. "We did this where I used to live and all of the neighbors pretty much just kept an eye on what was going on and it helped a lot."

One of the vehicles stolen and destroyed in the early morning hours of May 2, a 2 1/2-ton flatbed, belonged to Cook Inlet Spill Response Inc. Operations Manager Buzz Rome said the success of a neighborhood watch program requires being aware.

"Our facility is extremely well fenced in. It's well lit," Rome said. You'd have thought there's some traffic that would have thought this looked a little goofy, but nobody did. I don't know. Maybe you just miss it."

Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner said her community's program began in the mid-90s.

"We really appreciate the help out there because we can't see and do everything," Warner said. "When members of the community see other members are out there watching, dedicated to the safety of the community, then they'll behave. The presence means a lot.

"(Soldotna) has a good collaborative effort. There's no other word for it," Warner said. "It takes everybody's effort to make it successful."

Officer Scott McBride, of the Kenai Police Department, said the success of a neighborhood watch hinges on neighbors knowing each other.

"In today's society, people put up fences and don't really know who their neighbors are," McBride said. "If you don't know your neighbor, you're not inclined to look out for them."

Kenai's neighborhood watch was developed four years ago and started with a group of approximately 30 residents.

"The way it works is that neighbors get together and establish a block captain who's in charge of that area," McBride said. "The neighborhoods organize it and police departments serve as technical advisors. We don't run the program."

His advice to Nikiski is to keep everybody involved.

"If you have a good core group that wants to do it, have them go around to the neighbors and keep communication open," McBride said.

The Dominicks believe Nikiski residents are ready to make that effort. And Richard, who is president of the Nikiski Lions Club, will be working hard in the coming week to encourage his community's participation.

"I'm tired of seeing our community going the path it's going," said Dominick. "I'll be contacting businesses and organizations this week to let them know about the May 23 meeting."

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