There are many ways to protect your home and car, but one of the best ways may be to simply know your neighbors.
And, a way to get to know your neighbors is to establish a Block Watch program.
With 3,403 streets in the city, “there’s the potential to have thousands of active Block Watches,” Casa Grande Police Department spokesman Thomas Anderson said. Currently, 120 programs run in the city, but Anderson wants more to get established.
Police Chief Bob Huddleston said Neighborhood Watches have been in place for about 30 years in Casa Grande. “Involvement in the program has been up and down,” he said. “In a nutshell, I would say that the theory of community policing calls for partnerships between community members and the Police Department. Neighborhood Watch is a good example of that. We need to work with the community to develop prevention and security strategies and we have to recruit the community into that fold.”
What is it?
“It’s basically a program where neighbors watch out for other neighbors,” Anderson said.
“It’s a necessity in any community,” Huddleston said. “The police can’t do it all on their own. We’re a community of 50,000 people and there are six or seven officers out there at one time — that’s not nearly enough eyes and ears for the entire community, and so we recruit citizens in many ways.”
The purpose of a watch program “is to create an alert neighborhood by using simple crime prevention methods — neighbors helping each other,” Anderson said. “If they take the initiative to organize their own Neighborhood Watch group then they can ... keep a better eye on their street.”
Residents of a neighborhood know when there is something suspicious or out of the ordinary in their block, he said.
“The police officer may not recognize a stranger in your yard, but neighbors would.”
Virginia Slotter, 72, is active in her Block Watch in Rodeo Estates. Slotter’s subdivision started the watch program five years ago and now has 60 participants.
Slotter is feisty for her age. She shared a story about helping a neighbor.
“We’re a closed (gated) community and have ‘no soliciting’ signs posted at the entry,” she said. “Last summer a couple of guys were going door-to-door stating they would provide a free security system. They were about to go into a home down the street and I stopped them.”
Slotter said she boldly told them “nothing is free.” “I told them, ‘we have a security system — it’s called Block Watch — and all we have to do is call 911,’” she said. “I asked the neighbor to use her phone and called Officer Anderson, who spoke to one of the men.”
Anderson said he believes that in this case, the men were “preying on elderly people.”
“There were a couple problems,” said Anderson. “One, they didn’t have a city permit to go door-to-door like you have to. Secondly, they were falsely advertising their product as a free product — ultimately the security system was free but there was a monthly service to monitor it and they weren’t telling the residents that.”
Anderson told the solicitors they had two choices: They could leave or he would send a patrol officer out. “They decided to leave,” he said.
Everyone in Rodeo Estates knows one another so it’s an especially effective program, Anderson said.
“This was a perfect example of how an active Block Watch can cautiously intervene,” he said.
Slotter said she marched the men out the front gate and proudly pointed to the “no soliciting” sign. “They said they would drive out,” said Slotter. “But I wanted to make sure they saw the sign.”
Kathy Narney has lived in Casa Grande since 1985 and is the captain of her Block Watch. An incident near her home four years ago influenced her to start the program in the 1100 block of East Laurel Drive. “It was a Saturday evening and we heard a commotion outside,” she said. “We knew there were vehicles going down the street, but not very far, so we just walked outside and saw yellow tape and a crime lab vehicle.
Narney found out the next morning a woman had been shot and killed and the murder was methamphetamine-related.
“We were shocked,” Narney said. “I talked with a few neighbors — we have quite a few elderly people — some have lived here forever. I was concerned for them. I said, ‘we need to know our neighbors better and need to be more aware of what’s going on in the neighborhood.’”
Narney and another neighbor went house-to-house to discuss a watch program and the response was overwhelming.
“It took some time but we had 35 people at our first meeting — everyone was positive about the fact that we should know each other. I made a list of people’s addresses, who lives in the house, what vehicles they have in the driveway and what pets they have. That way we can kind of keep an eye out if we saw a vehicle, for example, that shouldn’t be there. We’re not going to report everything, but we are going to be aware.”
Narney said a Block Watch is a way to be proactive instead of reactive or not involved.
“I think one of the major benefits of any Block Watch program is to get to know your neighbors and if you get to know your neighbors, you are going to feel safer and you have people to call on in addition to the police.”
Mary Floyd has lived in Casa Grande for eight years and was instrumental in setting up a Block Watch in her active adult community, Mission Royale.
“Setting up a Block Watch was important because we have a community that has 50 percent winter visitors,” Floyd said. “With that in mind, we have a lot of empty homes and it’s very important we keep an eye on those homes.”
Floyd said burglaries were fairly common in her community before Block Watch.
“The main purpose is to get to know your neighbors and what they’re doing — know who they are and when they are there and when they are not there,” she said. “We have five Block Watch captains on our street alone. That gave each person about eight homes to watch.”
Floyd found a way to get more than $2,000 in Block Watch signs donated. She and a neighbor got Compass Bank and Electrical District 2 to pay for the signs in exchange for having their names on the signs.
Setting up a program
“It’s pretty easy to set one up,” Anderson said. “Information is available on the police department’s website: www.casagrandeaz.gov. It explains how to develop the program.
“Survey your block for interested neighbors. Try to involve the neighbors from the next street behind you or next to you so they can be encouraged to start a ‘watch’ on their block. Explain the value of the Neighborhood Watch program. Ask about convenient times to schedule their initial meeting.”
Anderson said a successful Block Watch doesn’t require frequent meetings and no one is asked to take personal risks to prevent crime.
“Neighborhood Watch leaves the responsibility for apprehending criminals where it belongs — with law enforcement — with the police,” he said. “It’s their eyes and ears that are a tremendous help to us because they are the ones who see what’s going on around their street, day and night.”
“We’re not trying to get people caught or in trouble,” Narney said. “We’re trying to keep our neighborhood safe and pleasant.”
Anderson attends watch group meetings when a new group forms.
“I give them training on what’s suspicious, what to do, how to call it in, what to look for, how to give a good description of the suspect,” Anderson said. “I also give them current crime trends in the city and also specifically in their neighborhood. I talk to them about how to safeguard their homes, their vehicles and themselves and talk about security systems, secondary locks on their doors and windows.”
City residents can track incidents in their neighborhood at www.crimereports.com. The site requires a person to log on and type in the address. It then populates actual crimes in that area for the last 30, 60 and 90 days.
How to start a Block Watch
Who: Casa Grande Police Officer Thomas Anderson
Phone: 421-8711, ext. 6760