Saturday, June 21, 2008

Police: Crime watches help make neighborhoods safer

by JOSH HARDWICK 06/19/2008

Members of the Chaparral Village neighborhood Crime Watch in Baytown have seen their fair share of unruly activity over the years, from street racers blowing past stop signs to thefts and even recent instances of a reported flasher in the area.

Criminal activity is something that all communities must deal with, but with the cooperation of law-abiding citizens, police can be more effective in their response, said Capt. David Alford of the Baytown Police Department. Alford was the guest speaker at Chaparral Village's Crime Watch meeting, June 15.

Alford said that of the 136 deputies employed by the Baytown Police Department, at least nine will be on patrol at any given time – one for each police district in the city. However, he said that a particularly busy night in one district might call patrol deputies away from their own districts, leaving a temporary gap in police coverage.

In order to minimize the vulnerability of homes and neighborhoods, Alford outlined the do's and don'ts for those taking an active role in protecting themselves and their property:

Do get involved. Crime Watch communities work when residents remain vigilant about their surroundings.

Alford stressed the need to commit to weekly or monthly meetings and to set up watch schedules that incorporate overlapping areas of surveillance.

Do call police. Alford said that many residents are angered whenever police are late responding to a disturbance call, so much that some may not call at all out of frustration or even fear of burdening the system.

"There have been times when it took me as much as three hours to respond to a call, and it's something I hate as much as they do," Alford said. "All I can do is tell them about the fight I broke up over here, and the big auto accident I had to stop at there, before responding to their complaint and hope they understand."

All calls to the station are routed into a database that police often use to track disturbances and make arrests even when someone is unable to respond to the initial complaint in a timely manner, Alford said

Don't be a potential victim, especially when it comes to theft. Many reports of theft are a result of valuables being left unattended that are simply too obvious for criminals to pass up.

"In the past we've dealt with burglars who had a set procedure: The car would drop off the crooks at the end of the street and park at the other end while the guys would walk by flipping car handles," Alford said. "If the door opened they would look inside and rummage around, and they would spend less than 10 seconds on each car."

Police advise that valuables be stored in places where they can't be easily seen by would-be burglars, such as inside garages and in the glove boxes of locked vehicles. Even a visible cell phone or GPS device can attract unwanted attention to a parked vehicle, Alford said.

Don't confront a problem directly. Crime Watches should be conducted for the purpose of quickly reporting issues and disturbances to the police, not to take action.

Alford warned against making any attempts to confront someone either suspected of committing, or in the process of committing, a crime.

"The laws provide the guidance, and we will enforce those laws – if we can catch them in the act," he said.

For neighborhood resident Bert Marshall, a sense of safety can be achieved by the presence of an attentive community. Marshall said that citizens should not fear their own neighborhoods simply because of the presence of a few bad apples.

"Don't be afraid to walk the streets here. Chaparral Village is a very safe place to live, and I think it's just a matter of us becoming better neighbors to help make it safer," he said.

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