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Neighbors join forces to thwart crime

Residents, police department take a proactive approach to keep area safe

POSTED: October 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Dennis and Sandi Rakow, members of the homeowner's association in the Briarcrest retirement community in Jefferson, are advocates of the Neighborhood Watch Program that was recently instituted in their community.

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JEFFERSON — Sandi and Dennis Rakow know what it is like to live in a community that doesn’t have a Neighborhood Watch Program.

"We used to live in Paulding County on a cul-de-sac," Sandi Rakow said. "There were numerous problems there with noise, drugs and other issues."

Now, the Rakows live in the Briarcrest retirement community in Jefferson, which has just started its own Neighborhood Watch Program in conjunction with the Jefferson Police Department.

"After living in (our old community in Paulding) for 10 months, we see this as a proactive approach to neighborhood problems and a very good idea," Sandi Rakow said. "When communities work with the police, things go much better — we feel so safe here."

The Briarcrest community off Ga. 11 and The Preserve subdivision on Old Pendergrass Road have recently become Jefferson’s first two Neighborhood Watch communities.

As a retired police officer, Dennis Rakow knows the importance of Neighborhood Watch Programs.

"If you can teach people to be vigilant about things that don’t seem so big, you’d be surprised at the difference it can make," he said.

"Say for instance you notice a dry wall company van parked in front of your neighbor’s house when they aren’t home and you see a couple of guys walking around the house. Take note of the writing on the side of the van, what the people look like and maybe even the license plate number.

"If that home is burglarized a few days later and you talk to your neighbor and they say they weren’t having any dry wall work done, you can take that information to the police and they at least have a couple of clues to work with."

Through the program, the Jefferson Police Department will train residents oh how to be proactive in their own safety instead of reactive.

"I met with the homeowner’s associations and passed out information about the program to help them decide if they wanted to participate," said Jefferson Police Chief Joe Wirthman, "One of the biggest problems that we have in this country is burglaries. The police can’t be everywhere at every moment of the day, but if we can teach residents to be the eyes and ears of their neighborhood that is very helpful."

Because there are only four police officers on duty during each shift and there are more than 30 different subdivisions in Jefferson, Wirthman says he hopes other neighborhoods will seek to start their own Neighborhood Watch.

"We don’t have the resources to assign an officer to patrol every neighborhood every hour of the day," Wirthman said. "We don’t have a large crime rate now, but as areas grow the crime rate grows with it. Having a Neighborhood Watch Program is a deterrent for criminals, so starting a watch group in a community is a great way to take a proactive stance."

Starting a Neighborhood Watch Program, is a process that must be initiated by residents, not the police department, since the program is run by neighborhood residents. To start a program, a majority of the residents in a neighborhood must agree to participate. As a participating community, residents agree to hold at least a couple of meetings each year and to establish a phone tree for reporting non-emergency observations to their group’s leader, who in turn contacts the police officer assigned to that particular neighborhood. Residents are instructed to call 911 with emergency situations.

Participants in the Neighborhood Watch communities are expected to be on the look out for any suspicious or disruptive activities- such as loud music, unfamiliar vehicles and unusual behavior.

Even if individuals aren’t interested in being their neighbor’s keeper, by looking out for their neighbor, residents are also protecting their own property and safety, Wirthman says.

"If there is a break-in next door, your house could definitely be next," he said. "People have the right to live in peace and quiet in their communities. The police can’t be everywhere at once, but if we have a community looking out for each other, that makes things a lot easier."



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