FRASER — Local residents are attempting to fight back against crime in their neighborhoods.
On Feb. 22, at Fraser City Hall, a group of about 30 residents gathered for the first official neighborhood watch meeting for neighborhoods north and south of Masonic Avenue. The south side of Masonic is recognized as the Venetian Village side, while the north side is known as Village Two or Venetian Woods.
A neighborhood watch group has existed within Hanover Grove for the past year.
Jack Simon, crime prevention officer for the Fraser Department of Public Safety, led the meeting. He will be responsible for enabling concerned residents by organizing efforts to prevent crime and improve quality of life.
Underneath Simon will be a watch coordinator, who facilitates information to various “block captains” in different neighborhoods. It’s like a chain of command.
After three years in his role, Simon will relinquish his duties to officer Lisa Pettyes in July.
The Feb. 22 meeting was a start-up meeting, so anyone on either side of Masonic was invited to attend and voice their views. In the future, each side of Masonic intends to have its own specific watch group, just as a way to easier maintain coordination and better utilize efforts.
Simon said the first step of starting a positive neighborhood watch program is to get others involved. He recognized that some people enjoy their privacy, but the more participation that goes into such efforts, the more viable a community watch becomes.
After neighborhood coordinators and block captains are appointed, they recruit interested residents by canvassing neighborhoods and conducting outreach. A phone tree is then created, making communication among residents easier.
The groups also provide residents with more information. For example, through resident surveys and police data, Simon noted that about 99 percent of home invasions occur through a residence’s back door.
This could be alleviated, he said, by installing LED or motion-sensor lights. He also mentioned attending a crime prevention seminar, where an insurance agent noted that front lawn signs can minimize crime by great degrees. It makes criminals think twice.
“Just by posting an actual sign in your front yard — like an alarm sign — it reduces home invasions by up to 80 percent. … The criminal mind, they never think they’re going to get caught,” Simon said. “If they think they’re going to get caught, they’re not going to commit the crime.”
The Fraser Department of Public Safety also engaged in certain activities that perhaps many residents weren’t even aware of in the first place. This includes “vacation watch,” which gives officers more impetus to check on homes when the homeowners are out of town for periods of time. This extends to added supervision for latchkey kids, areas where adolescents gather, and abandoned buildings.
Simon gave warning signs for suspicious activity: a person sitting in a stationary vehicle for an extended period of time; people behaving abnormally, such as wearing a dark hoodie at night and carrying a large backpack; a vehicle driving aimlessly around a subdivision; concealing property in public view; and driving around at night without headlights, which gives the impression that someone doesn’t want to be seen and may commit a crime.
He also stressed the words of other Fraser DPS officials: Keep automobiles locked when they are parked outside. He noted that larceny from automobiles is a common occurrence which can be subdued by a simple motto of “lock it or lose it.”
Solicitors, he added, don’t pull permits 80 percent of the time. Often, individuals pose as solicitors just as a means of determining whether residents are home or not.
Homes targeted by criminals may be due to aesthetic reasons too. If a home is overgrown with shrubs and not well-maintained, criminals may target those homes because they may think the homeowners don’t care.
“If the neighborhood looks like crap, it’s going to get treated like crap,” he said. “We want to keep it looking nice; we want to keep the people feeling safe.”
Simon also explained how to properly report crimes or suspicious activity: Call 911 and be ready to state the address of the incident, specify the type of emergency and follow dispatch instructions. If you’re told to stay on hold, don’t hang up. Provide dispatchers with “who, what, when, where, why” information, and provide the best possible descriptions of suspects or vehicles.
Fraser police rarely uses criminal lineups, Simon said, but they do resort to using “show-ups.” That is when a resident who reports a crime is actually picked up by police, taken to a scene where an alleged criminal is apprehended, and confirms or denies it is the correct suspect.
Linda Handran, 59, has been a Fraser resident for about 49 years. She lives on the north side of Masonic and has wanted to start a neighborhood watch group for a while. The issue was connecting with all of her fellow residents.
“I’m just having a hard time figuring out how to exactly let all of our neighbors know about it and get them on board,” Handran said. “I was posting things on Facebook, but not everyone has Facebook.”
She recalled a situation a while back when a van sat on her street for days. Residents became concerned and called the license plate into the police. It turned out that the van belonged to a private investigator.
As for whether both sides of Masonic need their own watch groups, Handran said she prefers going that route.
“That seems more than enough to try to take care of,” she said.
Meetings are intended to be held on a month-by-month basis, based on resident participation and the willingness of residents to meet and discuss activities.
For more information, email Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org. A closed Facebook group for each neighborhood’s residents was also discussed, due to information becoming cluttered on the popular Fraser E.N.U.F.F. site.