October 12, 2006
By Erin Post
Supporters of a Mad River Valley neighborhood watch group pushed for quick action at an informational meeting October 6.
The group of about 20 local residents and business owners agreed they wanted to see a crime prevention group up and running as soon as possible and set a second meeting for Thursday, October 19, at 7 p.m. at Waitsfield School.
It's important to gain some momentum and keep it going, said local business owner Troy Kingsbury.
"The main thing is keep that interest up," he said Friday night.
Terry Kernan, a Warren business owner, added that the time for action is now. A property crime spree that hit The Valley this summer has fired up local residents to the point where they're ready to do something to take back their communities. Although attendance at the meeting was lower than expected, residents agreed interest is out there.
"I think we ought to get going on this," Kernan said.
With local businesses being frequent targets for criminals over the summer, organizers plan to form a Mad River Valley Business Watch Association at the next meeting. This group--a subset of the larger watch organization--would focus solely on preventing crime at businesses through communication and awareness.
Dr. Wayne Whitelock, president of the Central Vermont State Police Community Advisory Board, is scheduled to organize the group and train business owners.
As the larger neighborhood watch moves forward, organizers also plan to begin pinpointing geographic areas within each town that could work together on crime prevention. Each area will be headed by a block captain and linked by a phone or e-mail tree. Attendees at the next meeting are slated to receive training about how to recruit more members within their communities.
Whitelock said Friday the best way to get residents interested is by word of mouth.
"You go and knock on your neighbor's door and you talk to them," he said.
Once a core group is committed in towns including Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston and Moretown, a third meeting would be set up to train neighborhood watch participants in the non-business part of the organization.
At that meeting, residents will learn what details are most helpful to law enforcement when reporting a potential crime or suspicious person. Other topics to be covered include features that criminals look for when picking out potential targets as well as how to better protect homes from intruders.
Whitelock said up to 10 neighborhood watch signs are available for each town in The Valley, thanks to grant funding from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Select boards would have to approve placing the signs along roadways.
Sgt. Bob Danaher of the Vermont State Police spoke at the October 6 meeting and called the neighborhood watch program "much needed in The Valley here."
"I support this program," he said. "I want to see it up and running."
Because the program trains residents to carefully observe their surroundings and sets up a channel to communicate that information to law enforcement, watch members can be a valuable resource for state police.
"Good information is power and we can use that to solve crime," he said.
He added, however, that a neighborhood watch is not about putting participants in harm's way. Active patrols are not a feature of the program, and watch members must have faith in law enforcement to apprehend criminals and make arrests.
"The program is built on trust," he said. "We want good people out there doing this work."
Whitelock pointed to recent statistics from towns including Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston and Moretown that show a rise in crime. In Waitsfield, he said, 25 property crimes were reported during the first six months of 2006. In the next four months, from May to September, state police investigated another 27 incidents of property crime. This is compared to 2005, when 33 property crimes were reported for the entire year.
"What we've shown is there has been a blip," Whitelock said. "There has been an increase in property crime this summer."
In Warren, 51 property crimes have been reported in 2006 so far, just 10 shy of 2005's total. The only town in the Mad River Valley that may see a slight decrease in property crime in 2006, according to statistics, is Moretown.
With 20 officers at the Middlesex-based Vermont State Police barracks assigned to patrol 712 square miles, resources are often spread thin, Whitelock said.
Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Laskowski and Fred Messer, chair of the Local Emergency Planning Commission #5, also spoke at the October 6 gathering.