It used to be that everyone that lived along the same road or in the same subdivision knew each other. These days, that is no longer the case. Neighborhood watch and crime prevention programs are growing in popularity as a way of keeping neighborhoods safe.
Free Neighborhood Watch Programs
Over 60 residents from the Harbour Oaks subdivision met in City Hall June 23 to discuss setting up a neighborhood watch program in their neighborhood. The residents met after experiencing an increased number of home break-ins over the past year. It turned out the break-ins were all connected to one particular family in the neighborhood -- before the meeting took place.
“The majority of the neighborhood showed up and learned what to watch for, and how to set up a program,” Captain Harold Thomas said. "There was an increase in crime, but it was all the same people, and ended up being someone from the neighborhood.”
The Snellville Police Department is available for meetings and information sessions on how to set up neighborhood watch programs. If you live within Snellville city limits, officers are available as neighborhood liaisons. If there is a break-in in one of the area homes, the victim would immediately call the officer, along with other neighbors. Another neighbor may have noticed something suspicious, and possibly even a description of the suspect.
“If a neighborhood wants a watch program, we organize it around the needs of that community,” Captain Thomas continued. “We tell them what they can do to protect themselves, to watch out for one another.”
Gwinnett County offers a similar program called C.O.P.S. (Community Oriented Police Service) for unincorporated areas. There must be at least 150 neighborhood residents or 65% of residents active in the program for the county to offer it. Both the county and city watch programs are free.
Neighborhood Watch 2.0
Alternatively, Village Defense requires a small monthly service fee -- $1 for residents in a participating neighborhood, $3 for individuals – but does all the work for you. Mountain Cove subdivision is one neighborhood in unincorporated Snellville that subscribes to the program.
Residents in the neighborhood grew concerned after what became known as the shooting. A party in an adjoining neighborhood got out of hand and resulted in a young man firing a weapon into the crowd. Five teens were injured. Although the shooting took place at midnight, many residents heard the shots, along with the police sirens, ambulance, and search helicopter.
Paul Huskey, a Mountain Cove resident, heard the shots and drove out to see what was happening.
“I was concerned because this is our neighborhood,” Huskey said. “My friends and my family live here. If something happened at my house, I would hope someone would come to see if everything was OK or if the police needed to be called. We don’t have family here, and I’m sure some other people in the neighborhood don’t either.”
A member of the homeowner’s association went to residents' homes and asked if they would be interested in participating in Village Defense.
“It was a good idea,” Huskey said. “If everyone knew what to look for during the Sweet Sixteen shooting, everyone would have had their lights on and been looking. That could have led to them being captured quicker.”
Village Defense was founded only two years ago as a social enterprise by Sharath Mekala and Nathan Black. It is a grassroots, local campaign that began by offering their services for free, and saw an 80% reduction in home burglaries. Mekala, an Atlanta area resident, was motivated to start the company through an unfortunate experience of his own.
“We started because my door got kicked in while I was at work,” Mekala said. “A neighborhood of 800 people, and no one saw a thing. I realized after the fact that my neighbor saw teenagers walking around the home.”
So how does it work?
“In an emergency situation,” Mekala explained, “if you see someone breaking into your neighbor’s home or you see someone knocking on people’s doors, acting suspicious, you call 911 to make sure that law enforcement knows. Then, you call the hotline. The live operators stand by 24/7. They confirm that you have called 911 because we are not a replacement, then ask what neighborhood you live in. From there, they ask that you describe everything that you see.”
Within seconds, everyone registered through Village Defense in your neighborhood receives an alert of the event. Subscribers can be notified through text, email, or a (land line) phone call.
“In case someone breaks in,” he continued, “you have the opportunity for everyone to get the blast and they can get tag information and vehicle and suspect description.”
In Mountain Cove subdivision, 55 people are registered so far. The company works hand in hand with local police departments. They send monthly crime reports, as well as information on what happened in the aftermath of the crimes. Associations can also record messages for the neighborhood if they have announcements pertaining to everyone, like pool re-opening dates and closings.
“We want to send the message to criminals that this is the path of most resistance if you come in through our neighborhoods,” Mekala emphasized.
They currently serve five neighborhoods and six retail centers. They make their money by volume and seek new neighborhoods to serve. They hope to work with the Centerville business district in 2012.
If you are a neighborhood president, contact Village Defense to schedule a presentation by emailing email@example.com.
For traditional neighborhood watch programs in Snellville city limits, email Captain Howard Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit crimemapping.com for a list of recent crimes in your area.