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Hoschton residents focus on cutting crime
Woman started neighborhood watch program after break-in at her house
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Crime prevention tips

• Remove any valuables from your car. Remember to lock your car and activate the car alarm if you have one.

• Install and/or turn on floodlights or motion detector lights at home. Light areas that are accessible to prowlers and visible to neighbors.

• Do not leave porch lights on during the day - to burglars it's a sure sign that no one is home.

• Install deadbolt locks on doors at home. Ensure windows are closed and latched.

• Record serial numbers of valuables located in the house and keep valuables in a safe place. If storing them in a fire safety box, secure it to the ground so it can't be carried out of the house.

• Invest in an alarm system, if possible, and use it.

• Make sure bushes do not hide your door from view, making it possible for burglars to spend more time breaking in. Bushes should be trimmed to below window level so that burglars can't have a secluded place to break into. For larger shrubs, trim up from the ground three feet to increase exposure of anyone hiding behind them.

• A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than an alarm system. If reluctant to leave on the TV while out of town, a device is sold that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television (faketv.com).

• If you have children that will arrive home from school to an empty house, make sure they have an emergency plan or neighbor in case they should need it.

• Do not advertise on social media sites, such as Facebook, that you will be on vacation or away from home for an extended period of time.

• Trust your instincts and report to law enforcement any suspicious behavior you witness.

• If noticing a suspicious or questionable vehicle in your neighborhood, do not approach it or confront the person inside. Call the police instead.

Courtesy of Lt. Joe O'Kelley, Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Hoschton residents Pam Butler and David Pugh, as well as a security consultant and convicted burglars, some of whom were interviewed by Richard T. Wright, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis for his book, "Burglars on the Job."

Lisa Bradley didn't worry much about crime in her neighborhood until earlier this year.

In the 10 years she has lived in Hoschton's Legacy Oaks subdivision, Bradley said crime has not been a problem. But in April, someone attempted to break into her home and a GPS unit was also stolen from her husband's business truck. Several other neighbors also reported acts of vandalism and personal items being stolen from their vehicles and boats.

In response, Bradley organized a neighborhood watch program and now serves as watch coordinator for Legacy Oaks, Century Oaks and Towne Park subdivisions.

To further promote participation in the program, Bradley's subdivision will join several other Hoschton neighborhoods on Thursday for the city's recognition of "National Night Out." The annual event invites neighbors nationwide to unite against crime by raising awareness for crime and drug prevention, fostering support and participation in anti-crime programs, as well as strengthening partnerships between neighbors and law enforcement.

Now in its 28th year, "National Night Out" was recognized on Aug. 2.

But Pam Butler, neighborhood watch coordinator for Deer Creek Farms, decided to delay the event in Hoschton due to this summer's scorching temperatures.

In Deer Creek Farms, Butler is encouraging homeowners to turn on their lights from dusk until dawn, lock their doors and come outside to visit, whether that means sitting on their front porch, taking a walk around the neighborhood or driving through in their golf carts.

Deer Creek Farms, Legacy Oaks, Century Oaks and Towne Park are among nine subdivisions or streets that have launched neighborhood watch programs in Hoschton.

"For a small city, Hoschton is very active in looking out for criminal activity and calling (the) Jackson County Sheriff's Office when we see suspicious activity or vehicles in the area," Butler said.

David Pugh, watch coordinator for Quail Crossing, said since his subdivision organized its program in 2006, neighbors have been more vigilant in noticing and reporting suspicious activity.

"Before, no one ever noticed any strange cars coming into Quail Crossing," he said. "Also, it has made everyone feel safe that they have a point of contact."

Throughout the year, neighborhood watch coordinators try to organize two communitywide meetings enlisting help from the sheriff's office for updates on crimes occurring in the area and tips on the best preventive measures to implement. Coordinators also readily share information with one another.

"When suspicious activity occurs in one neighborhood, it might be connected to an issue in another, so communication between the neighborhoods is critical," Butler said. "If people are soliciting or riding through one area, we inform all the other coordinators to let their neighbors know to be on the lookout for them."

Chuck Fisk, watch coordinator for The Village at Hoschton, said this communication is especially important given the hardships and desperation many are facing with the economic slowdown.

"With the economy the way it is, with the addictions that people are having, alcohol, drugs, they're going to do whatever they have to do," he said. "Some are doing it so they can eat. Some are doing it because they need their fix. Things are going on out there every day. We just have to be vigilant and watch out for each other. That's the bottom line."

Lt. Joe O'Kelley orchestrates the neighborhood watch program for the sheriff's office and said since he assumed the helm a few years ago, the program has noticeably grown. O'Kelley, who will attend Hoschton's "National Night Out," said organizing a neighborhood watch program and holding awareness events are good crime deterrents. The growth of these programs in Hoschton, he believes, has led to a "definite reduction" in crime.

Even if a subdivision doesn't formally organize a neighborhood watch program, O'Kelley encourages homeowners to get to know one another. "They (neighbors) don't really take the time to get to know their neighbors anymore and I encourage that," he said. "That's the whole idea behind the neighborhood watch program is looking after your neighbors and your neighbors looking after you."

In the Hoschton area, some of the more common recurring crimes involve automobile break-ins and copper thefts, according to O'Kelley. If someone sees a suspicious person or vehicle, he said contact the police.

In crimes where there have been witnesses, he said often people didn't contact law enforcement because they either didn't want to get involved or even if they thought it was strange, they talked themselves out of taking action.

Bradley said in some cases, she has called the police on behalf of a neighbor unwilling to get involved.

"I have freely given my phone number out and we have received calls at all hours requesting help," she said.

"Some residents see things but just don't want to get involved so they call us to be the one to intervene."

If interested in launching a neighborhood watch program in Jackson County, contact O'Kelley at jokelley@jacksoncountysheriff.us for more information.

For more information on next week's "National Night Out," contact Butler at pambutler64@windstream.net.

Those in Gainesville interested in a neighborhood watch program should contact Joe Britte or Kevin Holbrook with Gainesville Police at 770-287-0893, jbritte@gainesville.org or kholbrook@gainesville.org.

For those in Hall County, contact the Hall County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit at 770-533-7674.

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