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West Avenue Neighborhood Watch seeks more people
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With only six people in attendance, a major theme of the first Neighborhood Watch meeting for West Avenue was getting more people to attend.

Residents of West Avenue held their first Neighborhood Watch meeting after two slayings that happened just a week apart in June.

George Wangemann, a resident of West Avenue and the city councilman for Ward 4, said he knocked on 250 doors in the neighborhood encouraging people to attend, and 20 to 25 said they would.

“I was surprised in a way because I had a lot more people tell me they were coming,” he said. “But we’re going to keep on keeping on until we get everyone involved in some way as a set of eyes and ears.”

The meeting, held at the public safety complex on Queen City Parkway, was led by Gainesville Police Department Cpls. Kevin Holbrook and Joe Britte.

Holbrook said the stabbing and shooting in June were the types of incidents that police can’t normally prevent, but calls from concerned residents could make a difference.

“Two major incidents occurred on the same road in a very short time span. One thing to remember is the parties were known to each other,” Holbrook said. “One of the incidents, an individual was dealing drugs. It was a drug deal that went bad. ... The stabbing, two domestic partners in a relationship got into an argument. They were under the influence, and one stabbed another.”

These types of incidents can’t be predicted based on crime trends, he said, but information from people who live in the area could sometimes lead to their prevention.

“The shooting possibly (could have been prevented) if we had known that they were dealing drugs out of the  house, but someone has to call in and let us know,” he said. “The stabbing, had some neighbors heard them arguing in that apartment and contacted us, we may could have prevented it.”

The function of a Neighborhood Watch, Holbrook said, is to keep law enforcement informed.

“Our Neighborhood Watch groups have been instrumental in solving crimes for the mere fact that they call in suspicious activity,” he said, using an example of a concerned resident calling about a suspicious vehicle. “It may be nothing, but if we have a burglary in that neighborhood, we go pull the dispatch logs and see there was a suspicious vehicle in that neighborhood.”

Wangemann said he joined the effort to form a Neighborhood Watch for West Avenue, not only because of the June stabbing and shooting incidents, but to address ongoing problems in the neighborhood.

“It’s not just the murders,” he said. “There are all kinds of things that people are concerned about in our neighborhood.”

The group discussed problems of litter throughout the neighborhood, an overgrown creek, sex offenders in the area, trespassing, break-ins and items stolen from yards.

A more prevalent topic of discussion, however, was communication.

“I want to return West Avenue to the type of street it was 20 years ago,” Wangemann said. “We all knew each other and we appreciated the fact that our neighbors were taking care of their yards. ... There are still good people out there.”

Communication between neighbors, Britte said, is important in keeping neighborhoods safe. Britte talked to the group about ways to get more people involved, opening more paths for communication.

“After we’re done here, we want to increase attendance,” he said. “Food is the No. 1 attraction. Everyone wants to be in an environment where you’re learning and you’re eating at the same time.”

Britte encouraged group members to have meetings at their homes and to hold Neighborhood Watch block parties with plenty of food.

Holbrook said the new group should not be discouraged by the turnout, saying that even smaller groups have grown to some of the largest in the community.

He also said even a small group can help police better monitor a neighborhood.

“Even if it’s just y’all, how many more eyes do we have in here?” he said. “If there’s a problem and it’s not brought to light, we can’t do anything about it.”

Holbrook said, even if you’re not a member of a Neighborhood Watch, you can still prevent crime by keeping the police informed.

“Report suspicious behavior. Don’t turn a blind eye,” he said. “If you see something out of the ordinary, report it to us.”