Neighbors being neighborly

Banding together can deter crime

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories examining burglary trends in the central Kenai Peninsula. Thursday’s story examines some of the characteristics and motivations of burglars.

The Rogers Road neighborhood in Kenai always has been a close-knit one, where neighbors get together regularly and everyone knows everyone else.

But neighborhoods grow and evolve, and last summer residents started thinking about things they could do to ensure their neighborhood remained a safe one.

“Our neighborhood was pretty small, but it’s started growing. We’re getting more people in the neighborhood and with summer traffic, we thought it might be a good idea. And we’ve got a ton of kids, so we’re watching out for their safety,” said Jennifer Dye, who, along with her neighbors, is helping start a Neighborhood Watch program.

Sgt. Scott McBride of the Kenai Police Department said forming a Neighborhood Watch is an effective way to deter crime in a neighborhood, particularly burglaries and thefts.

“It essentially boils down to neighbors helping neighbors, watching over each other’s property when they’re gone, and just getting to know your neighbors,” McBride said.

McBride said the Neighborhood Watch program was started in the 1970s by a sheriff’s department in the Lower 48 when officers observed fences going up between homes, and neighbors drifting apart.

“So they got neighbors together,” McBride said. “If you know who your neighbors are, you’ll watch out for their stuff.”

McBride said there currently are three Neighborhood Watches in Kenai: Rogers Road, Woodland Subdivision, and off Aliak Drive.

In many cases, watches are started in response to thefts or burglaries in the neighborhood.

“They are run by the neighborhood. It takes people in the neighborhood to be committed to make an effective watch,” McBride said.

McBride said Neighborhood Watches can be elaborate, with Web sites, monthly meetings and community patrols, or fairly simple, such as an occasional get-to-know-your-neighbor picnic.

McBride said many times, a Neighborhood Watch will invite local police for crime-prevention training.

Dye said her Rogers Road neighborhood has been pretty safe, adding that there wasn’t a particular event that got people thinking about neighborhood safety.

“We’ve had a couple of things here and there that spurred us to get together and start thinking about Neighborhood Watch,” Dye said.

Dye said her neighborhood has always been neighborly, with frequent social gatherings, but said that starting a Neighborhood Watch has had a positive effect.

“With Neighborhood Watch, we’re more aware of who lives in the neighborhood. It went from more of a social thing to being more focused on safety and watching out for each other,” Dye said.

To get a Neighborhood Watch started, McBride said residents should contact their local law enforcement agency.

“What we’ll do usually is have an officer come out and speak to a group. The group takes over from there and they do with it what they want. We provide assistance with helping getting started, and we also provide ongoing training for residents,” McBride said.

McBride said the one drawback of a Neighborhood Watch is that because of its effectiveness, residents can lose interest.

“What happens is the two or three core people who were doing it move on, there are no more problems and interest in Neighborhood Watch tends to drop, which is unfortunate, because stuff still goes on. It’s still good to have communities interacting among themselves,” McBride said.

McBride said there are some basic steps people can take to prevent becoming victims of burglary or theft, starting with simply locking doors.

“Just locking doors is probably the most basic thing,” McBride said. “I can’t think of a car we’ve had stolen that didn’t have the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked. It’s just basic, common-sense security people need to start doing. If people did that, it would cut down on stolen cars, items stolen from sheds and garages — we don’t have a lot of household burglaries here.”

Sgt. Robb Quelland of the Soldotna Police Department said communication — between neighbors and with local law enforcement — is one of the best ways to deter burglaries and theft.

“Speak with your neighbors. Talk with them. The neighborhoods we don’t have problems in are the ones where they do communicate,” Quelland said.

“There are so many programs out there, but it doesn’t take a national program or a box program to get something going in your neighborhood.”

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