Third in a series on local law enforcement efforts to lower burglary numbers that have climbed in a down economy.
Joan Alford’s neighborhood watch has been active for a few years, but recently it regained focus as burglaries increased in the down economy.
Anxious residents held a meeting with police in November after a wave of break-ins. Since then, residents of the neighborhood of about 90 homes have stepped up the lookout for suspicious folks.
“I think the neighbors are more inclined now to call the police if they see something that doesn’t fit or seems out of place,” Alford said. “I think we’re beginning to get that reputation.”
Gainesville Police Crime Prevention Officer Joe Britte agrees.
“I think the criminals now know there are folks watching,” Britte said. “They know if they are looking suspicious, they’re going to get called on.”
Neighborhood watches are nothing new — both Gainesville and Hall County have had them for years — but many tend to fall dormant and do little more than display a road sign until property crimes start hitting home.
“Usually when something sparks up in the neighborhood is when they want to do something,” Britte said.
Last year there were more sparks. Largely due to the economy, Hall County saw a 23 percent increase in burglaries and Gainesville had a 33 percent increase.
Residents responded. Gainesville police have added about 20 neighborhood watches in the past year, bringing the active total to about 50, Britte said. The department assigned Officer Kevin Holbrook to help Britte with the increased demand.
Neighborhood watches, when they are active, make a real difference, Holbrook said.
“They’ve been very instrumental in helping us apprehend suspects,” he said.
A phone call from a neighborhood watch member on Dixon Circle reporting suspicious activity during the day led to four burglary arrests and the recovery of a flat-screen television, Holbrook said.
McCree Simmons, a co-captain of the Dixon/Chestatee Road neighborhood watch, said meetings with police not only gave neighbors tips on how to reduce their chances of becoming crime victims, but also helped them become better acquainted.
“The watch has allowed to us to get to know one another and has helped us all work together,” Simmons said. “Neighbors are looking out for each other.”
Britte said it may seem like “nosy neighbors” but it’s really about being able to spot when something isn’t quite right next door.
“It’s a matter of knowing your neighbors,” Britte said. “Who they are and what they do.”
Good watches also keep members informed.
Regular communication through e-mail and phone trees keeps the small crime from growing into something else by word of mouth, Holbrook said.
“It can help dispel rumors and get out the real information on what occurred,” Holbrook said.
“It helps everybody to be more vigilant,” Alford said.
The increased interest in neighborhood watches may be having an effect. Property crimes are down 19 percent from the first two months of 2010 in the city limits of Gainesville.
“With what we’ve seen lately, we need to band together to solve this problem,” Britte said. “We need everybody’s help with this.”