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July 09. 2013 9:19PM

Neighbors watch groups tilt scales in crime fight

Neighborhood watch groups, established in many communities in the Granite State over the last few years, are effective in reducing burglaries and thefts in residential neighborhoods, according to police.

"Neighborhood watch groups are always a plus for any agency. They provide another level of eyes and ears for the department and help prevent or solve criminal activity. It is just a good thing," Hooksett Police Chief Peter Bartlett said.

The Hooksett Police Department instituted a neighborhood watch program in 2010; every year since, the town has seen the number of residential burglaries drop from the previous year. In 2010, Hooksett had 63 residential burglaries and 23 commercial burglaries for a total of 86. In 2011, there were 50 residential burglaries and 42 commercial, for a total of 92, in 2012 there were 40 residential and 15 commercial, for a total of 55. So far this year, there have been 26 residential and 9 commercial.

Bartlett said the numbers are proof that the neighborhood watch, which is broken into five groups, makes a difference. Lt. Michael Bernard of the Bedford Police Department also said home burglaries have dropped since the town instituted a neighborhood watch at the end of 2011, which saw about 45 residential burglaries. In 2012, there were about 30; so far this year there have been 10.

"We are doing well so far," Bernard said.

From January until July 7 of this year, compared to the same time last year, Bernard said the department had a noticeable drop in reports of thefts from vehicles, part of which he attributed to the groups.

Ken Geddes of Auburn's neighborhood watch group said it's all about communication.

"Basically, it is about sharing information and educating our members. We want to keep everyone informed. If you see something, say something, maybe even get a license plate number," Geddes said.

He said the Auburn watch groups were started a couple of years ago after a rash of burglaries.

"It definitely makes a difference in the town. Burglaries are way down," Geddes said.

Auburn Police Capt. Gary Bartis said the statistics back Geddes' claim of fewer burglaries and thefts.

"We don't care what it is, call it in," Bartis said. "Usually, it will be nothing, but a few times we would get calls about people and we would show up and could tell that it was someone casing the neighborhood and they would take off," Bartis said.

With close to 500 members spread across three groups, Bartis said, "I think it is a valuable tool every police department should have. We can't cover every inch of town. (The watch groups) are our eyes."

In the city of Nashua, neighborhood watch groups go back more than 20 years, according to Nashua Police Capt. Scott Hammond.

"They are very useful. We have over 20 groups that are broken up into different parts of the city. We have a good relationship with them, and we have an officer who attends their weekly meetings to share information," Hammond said.

A new watch group was just created a few months ago, he said, noting: "We are always looking to expand the groups."

As technology continues to evolve, so must neighborhood watch groups, Pembroke Police Chief Dwayne Gillman said.

"We used to have an email list, but now we funnel information in different ways. Now we have a Facebook page and send information out using Nixle.com, which allows us to send information directly to people's phones," Gillman said.

The 300 or so people in the neighborhood watch group still get the same information and play the same role.

"Everyone has a smart phone now," he said.

"Even if you don't have a neighborhood watch, it is still important to call the police if something doesn't look right; we get paid to do what we do. I have never heard a single police officer complain that someone was calling in too much. It's a non-issue," Gillman said.

Police officers interviewed for this article encouraged residents interested in starting or joining a neighborhood watch to contact their local police department.

bklein@newstote.com


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