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Hoschton residents discuss neighborhood watch program
Neighborhood reacts to series of break-ins, armed robbery
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When a series of break-ins and an armed robbery hit Lisa Bradley's neighborhood, she decided it was time to fight back.

Bradley, who lives in the Legacy Oaks subdivision in Hoschton, orchestrated a meeting on April 16 for her subdivision, as well as the Century Oaks and Towne Park neighborhoods, to discuss launching a neighborhood watch program.

More than 40 people attended the hourlong meeting led by Lt. Joe O'Kelley with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office at the Church of God of Prophecy off Ga. Highway 332. O'Kelley spent much of the meeting discussing the types of crime that have recently affected the area and how residents can better protect themselves.

He said in Hoschton there has been a noticeable spike in burglaries and automobile break-ins, which likely stem from the economic slump or the need to fund drug habits.

Between March 30 and 31, three residents in Legacy Oaks filed police reports stating their vehicles had been broken into and several items, including a purse, two wallets and a GPS unit, were stolen.

Bradley said criminal activity is escalating, too.

Within the past few weeks, two attempts have been made to break into her home.

"We got hit twice," she said. "They tried to break in our house and my husband's business truck and then two weeks later, they came back and were in our 6-foot privacy fence."

An even scarier incident occurred on April 9 when one resident was robbed at gunpoint in his driveway.

The resident told police as he pulled into his driveway around midnight, a black Honda car pulled up behind him and three white males jumped out, all dressed in black with one brandishing a gun. They ordered him to hand over his truck keys.

When he saw the gun, the resident surrendered the keys. Two of his assailants began beating him and knocked him to the ground, telling him at one point to "go back to where you came from ..." The stolen vehicle was found later that morning abandoned in Gwinnett County. It had been set on fire.

The victim's wife, who wished to remain anonymous considering the crime, said the attack has rattled her family.

"That's the worse feeling ever because you are at your house," she said. "It's where you feel secure."

The couple has two children, an 8-month-old and 10-year-old, and she said it scares her to know the situation could have easily escalated.

Citing this as an example, O'Kelley urged people to remain vigilant and watch for any suspicious activity in their communities. "In my 18 years of service (with the sheriff's office), I've learned some very important things about criminal activity (and) that is that the criminals are getting smarter and smarter," he said. "So, we're going to have to change the way we do things. We're going to have to get out of our comfort zone of where we're used to being and become a little bit more aware of what's going on around our neighborhoods."

He recommended erecting neighborhood watch signs, having someone patrol the neighborhood, keeping areas well-lit and reporting any suspicious activity to law enforcement. If someone notices a suspicious vehicle, he said, record the license tag number, a description of the vehicle and its occupants, and the vehicle's location, then call 911 to report it.

With Hoschton no longer operating a police department, the sheriff's office patrols the city, but O'Kelley said he doesn't have enough manpower to check neighborhoods all the time — there are more than 80 located in the zone that contains Hoschton.

The sheriff's office splits its coverage area into four zones.

O'Kelley said any help residents can offer will not only be beneficial to law enforcement, but also to themselves.

No one should ever have to experience the fear that the man who was recently assaulted is now trying to overcome, O'Kelley said.

"When these criminals are coming into your house or going into cars, they're not stealing your belongings, they're stealing your peace of mind," he said. "This is a place you're supposed to go and be comfortable and secure and safe. You're supposed to be able to lay your head down and go to sleep, and when somebody comes in your house and takes something from you or does a violent crime, they've taken so much more from you than just your personal property. They've taken your peace of mind and your sense of security and it's time we started taking it back."

Hoschton officials plan to hold a citywide safety awareness, crime prevention and neighborhood watch forum at 7 p.m. May 17 at the Hoschton Train Depot.

Capt. Chuck Ledford with the sheriff's office will be in attendance, along with neighborhood watch coordinators. Topics to be discussed include safety tips for safe-guarding your home this summer and how to form your own neighborhood watch program.