By Erin Post

The Warren Select Board has signed off on a neighborhood watch program for their town and has committed some funding to the effort.

Organizers plan to use up to $175 in town money to cover the cost of 10 12-by-18-inch aluminum 'neighborhood watch' signs to be posted on existing signs in town, said organizer Clayton-Paul Cormier Jr.

The select board approved the funding and the watch program, in general, at their December 12 meeting after Cormier and fellow organizer Tom Boyle gave a presentation. A meeting in January is slated to inform residents of the program and to organize the town-wide effort.

"We want to proceed carefully and in consideration of everybody," Cormier said. Using existing signs should help to reduce the visual impact of a proliferation of new signs in town, he said, and save on costs.

In addition to the smaller signs, two 18-by-24-inch signs are to be placed at the north and south entrances to town along Route 100, Cormier said. Grant money secured by the Local Emergency Planning District #5---the organization that has spearheaded the effort to form a Mad River Valley Neighborhood Watch, in cooperation with the Central Vermont State Police Community Advisory Board---has been earmarked to cover the cost of those signs.

Because Route 100 is a state road, approval from the department of transportation is necessary before those signs can be posted, Cormier said.

In the meantime, the Warren group is pushing ahead to recruit more participants and set up a working watch.

The first Warren Neighborhood Watch Association meeting is planned for Wednesday, January 17, at 7 p.m. at the Warren Firehouse.

The meeting is open to any town residents interested in learning more about the program or becoming members.

At the January 17 meeting, organizers plan to divide the town into geographic blocks with each area to be headed up by a block captain. This person will be responsible for organizing members and for developing and maintaining an email and phone list for participants in their block.

"The key is going to be organization and getting a hierarchy of people communicating," Cormier said. "It's really going to be a grassroots campaign."

Fred Messer, chair of LEPC #5, said the Valley neighborhood watch program is now being "decentralized," with the appointed town coordinators responsible for setting up meetings and working with select boards to gain approval.

Messer said he recently met with the Moretown Select Board to give them a "quick briefing" and said the board planned to make the program a Town Meeting item of discussion.

In Fayston, town coordinator Earl Thompson spoke to the select board on December 11 and planned to return with more information.

Waitsfield town coordinator Tim Wiggins has temporarily resigned, Messer said, due to health reasons.

"I will be filling in for him for now," Messer said, "or until we find a new town coordinator."

Placement of neighborhood watch signs continues to be a work in progress, Messer said. State officials have indicated signs may be placed on existing sign posts, he said, with permission from the town and with the town road crew doing the work.

"We could use a few more geographically well-placed landowners to allow us to put up some posts," he said, adding that they would be similar to the Rotary Club and Mason signs posted near town entrances.

For the business watch portion of the program, Messer said, the chamber of commerce has agreed to serve as the lead agency. They will be responsible for organizing a network of business participants and setting up a training session.

In the weeks since the neighborhood watch first caught on here in the Valley, Messer said Barre officials have expressed interest in starting their own program.

"So our team will be moving on to Barre and replicate what we have done here in the Mad River Valley," he said.

The neighborhood watch program, as organized by the LEPC #5 and the Central Vermont State Police Community Advisory Board, focuses on participants working with law enforcement to prevent crime in the community.

Trainings held recently at Waitsfield School emphasized that local residents can act as the "eyes and ears for police" by being observant during their everyday lives. Participants learned what information police look for when investigating a crime, and also reviewed strategies to better protect their own homes and businesses.

At those meetings, law enforcement agents representing the Washington County Sheriff's Department and the Vermont State Police endorsed the program and discussed ways to make the neighborhood watch effective.