Your Eyes and Ears Have Made a Tangible Difference
The recent decision by the Federal Court instructing the State of California to reduce prison overcrowding will result in the early probation of 848 non-violent felons over the next three years in Alameda County. [Crime Increase Likely Police Chief Tells Council, San Leandro Patch, December 2, 2011]. This is troubling news for cities already dealing with strained police department budgets and is worrisome for residents living with crime in their communities.
One of the most effective tools residents have in their power and which police departments depend on to help them deter crime is Neighborhood Watch. Last summer, calls from residents on Victoria Avenue led to the arrest of an unregistered sex offender as well as two women burglarizing a home (called the 'suitcase burglars' because they walked through neighborhoods with a roller bag and entered unoccupied homes). The two woman were wanted for a string of burglaries in San Leandro and had managed to stay just a step ahead of the police until a neighbor on Victoria Avenue witnessed them breaking into a neighbor's home. In addition, residents took down the license number a young man speeding down Victoria and repeatedly returning to lay down tire marks on Melven Court; he received a visit from San Leandro police officers at his home in Oakland, where his father was notified of his son's activities.
At a Town Hall meeting for Districts 5 and 6 last October, SLPD Crime Prevention Officer Tim Degrano asked the audience for a raise of hands to indicate how many residents were involved in a neighborhood watch program. In the main library's lecture hall, filled nearly to capacity, I counted only seven hands raised. While residents were asking the SLPD what the department was doing about crime, they were missing one of the most effective methods for deterring crime - watchful residents alerting police to suspicious activity and individuals in their neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Watch begins with a meeting hosted in a resident's home or a public meeting place. A SLPD crime prevention officer will attend the meeting to help organize the group, distribute materials and update residents on crime statistics in their area. An effective way to keep Neighborhood Watch strong is by building community. Each September, BNA Editor Mia Owsley organizes a block party, where the street is shut off to traffic, neighbors bring potluck, children play and everyone enjoys a relaxing afternoon visiting with friends and getting to know new neighbors. On my block, we hold the annual National Night Out on the first Tuesday in August, when neighbors are encouraged to participate in sidewalk potlucks, exchange contact information and receive visits by the fire and police departments. Target is a national sponsor of National Night Out and our local Target provides free paper goods and toys to those hosting a potluck for National Night Out.
Last year, Patricia Minnis of Estudillo Estates and Citizens For a Safer San Leandro, City Councilwoman Pauline Cutter and I took turns walking the Bancroft/Dutton business district with SLPD Crime Prevention Officer Kerry Kovach. We met with business owners in the area and found them to be welcoming of our visit, committed to our community and responsive to the Business Watch information Officer Kovach provided. We will continue to visit these businesses this year to assist them in resolving issues while encouraging them to maintain a strong Business Watch.