Neighborhood watch groups can help fight crime, say police
Lt. Michael Bernard of the Bedford Police Department said home burglaries have dropped since the town instituted a neighborhood watch at the end of 2011. In 2011, he said, there were about 45 residential burglaries, then in 2012 there were about 30, and so far this year there have been 10 reports.
“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.
“Neighborhood watch groups are always a plus for any agency. They provide another level of eyes and ears for the department and helps prevent or solve criminal activity. It is just a good thing,” said Hooksett Police Chief Peter Bartlett.
In 2010, the Hooksett Police Department instituted a neighborhood watch program, and every year since then 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, and so far this year there have been 26 residential and nine commercial.
Bartlett said the numbers are proof that the neighborhood watch, which is broken into five groups, is a helpful tool in preventing residential burglaries.
Ken Geddes, of Auburn’s neighborhood watch group, said that the notion of doing patrols is misplaced when it comes to most neighborhood watch groups.
“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.
Sgt. Janet Bouchard of the Hooksett Police Department said that citizen patrols are not what police are looking for. Rather, they’re interested in a network of residents who stay in contact and informed about the issues.
Geddes said that the Auburn watch groups were started a couple of years ago after a rash of burglaries in Auburn.
“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 crimes, specifically burglaries and thefts.
The key to the success of neighborhood watch groups is the increased willingness of citizens to report suspicious activity, Bartis said.
“We don’t care what it is, call it in. 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.”
But as technology continues to evolve, so must neighborhood watch groups, pointed out Pembroke Police Chief Dwayne Gillman.
“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.
Gillman added that about a year ago, he did away with the email list and police stopped attending watch meetings. However, he said that despite the traditional formation of the watch no longer existing, the same 300 or so people in the watch can still get the same information and play the same role.
“Everyone has a smart phone now,” he said.
Since the switch, Gillman said he hasn’t seen any noticeable change in crime statistics, but that the more people willing to communicate issues in the town to the police, the better.
“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 nonissue,” Gillman said.
Police encourage residents interested in staring or joining a neighborhood watch to contact their local police department for more information.