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November 16, 2006
By Erin Post
Preparation and awareness were the key words Tuesday night during a training session for the Mad River Valley Neighborhood Watch.
About 30 area residents attended the session hosted by law enforcement personnel and local organizers at the Waitsfield School.
The hour-long meeting was taped by MRVTV, Channel 44, for broadcast, and organizer Fred Messer said DVDs will be available for residents who could not make the training.
Two training booklets, one focused on home and personal security and the other on protocols for the watch program, were handed out to attendees.
The program sets up a system to distribute press releases from state police to Watch participants, and also provides the means to relay tips and information from local residents back to police.
Law enforcement officers emphasized that they need "actionable information" from Watch participants, not gossip or hearsay.
Vermont State Police Sergeant Bob Danaher said detailed information based on an eyewitness account is the most helpful of all.
When it comes to tracking down a suspect, seemingly inconsequential details may be the ones that break a case: information such as what kind of jewelry a person was wearing, what type of hat they had on, whether they had a beard or mustache, if they walked with a limp or if they carried any items with them.
"Don't just take a casual glance," Danaher said. "Take a good, hard look at that person."
The same goes for a suspicious vehicle.
The make and model of a vehicle, the color, and even details such as whether the paint was faded or the car was rusting may be the facts that help police solve a crime. License plate numbers, even if it is only a few digits, are also important to write down.
"The sooner you write that information down, the better off we're going to be when you pass that information along to us," Danaher said.
As far as getting information from the state police to Watch participants, Lieutenant John Imburgio, Middlesex barracks commander, said press releases will likely be emailed to designated coordinators in each town.
If any of the reports contain information relevant to the area, those coordinators would then forward the release to all of the Watch participants on their list, keeping them informed of investigations and suspects that police may be seeking.
Anonymous tips are acceptable, Imburgio said, but they "may not necessarily be acted on" because of limitations in a court of law. The courts often consider anonymous tips "unreliable" because of the lack of accountability, unless they are corroborated by other sources.
Considering these limitations, residents who are willing to give their names and go on record with their information are the most helpful to police, he said.
Learning how to better protect families and homes from criminals is also an important component of the Watch program, organizers said.
"The key in home security first of all is planning," Washington County Deputy Sheriff Peter Laskowski told the group.
He said having good locks and sturdy windows ensures a home is not an easy target. Although it may seem like common sense, knowing the local number for the Vermont State Police as well as the sheriff's department and ambulance is critical when an emergency strikes.
Organizers are in the process of signing up block captains and town coordinators. Each Valley town has five large neighborhood watch signs at their disposal, and towns may order more if necessary, said Dr. Wayne Whitelock, president of the Central Vermont State Police Community Advisory Board.
The watch program is funded through grants secured by the advisory board in cooperation with the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) #5.