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Hazel Park

January 25, 2013

Residents asked to deter crime with watchful eye

Organized block groups continue to grow in Hazel Park

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

HAZEL PARK — Police are encouraging residents to take charge of their neighborhoods this year by forming watch groups that guard against crime in the area.

“We want as many people to participate as possible,” said Aux. Lt. Brian Forrester, co-founder of Hazel Park Community Watch.

Since 2008, Forrester and Aux. Sgt. Michael Craft have been organizing Hazel Park’s neighborhoods into crime prevention groups. The individual block programs are called Neighborhood Watch, while the citywide program as a whole is called Community Watch, incorporating neighborhoods as well as local businesses.

Once a block is determined, a block captain is needed to serve as a liaison between his or her group and the city offices, and to help maintain volunteer membership levels within the neighborhood.

When the block captain gets at least 60 percent of residents on the block to commit, the residents receive window decals for their homes, as well as the installation of special street signs warning others that they’re reporting suspicious activity to the police.

“But the signs by themselves don’t deter crime,” Forrester said. “If criminals are going through the neighborhood multiple times, checking cars, and nobody is calling, they’ll think (the warning) is bunk. But if people call, they’ll figure out to stay away because word will get out: ‘They have a Community Watch up.’ This is why we want people invested in this, calling us when they see anything suspicious.”

Residents also keep an eye out for other issues, such as code enforcement violations, blight, and public safety hazards like down wires.

The first Neighborhood Watch group formed in early March 2008. Now there are six active registered groups, and the HPPD recently received a request to start up a new one. 

To keep everyone on the same page about happenings in the city, Community Watch meets at Hazel Park High School, 23400 Hughes, at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month, and is always seeking new members.

To start a new block group, one can call the HPPD’s main line at (248) 542-6161, and dial extension 254 to reach Forrester. He’ll make sure the block is not already covered. If it’s not and the caller wants to start a group, they will be tasked with going door to door, canvassing neighbors to hit the 60 percent commitment threshold.

Once a group is formed, Forrester will arrange to meet them and explain how everything works. However, if an individual can’t get their own block to commit, they can still become part of another block’s group.

“Our main goal, of course, is to watch out for our neighbors in our community,” Forrester said. “We can achieve this goal by being vigilant of suspicious activities, vehicles and people.”

In addition to Community Watch, Hazel Park has other initiatives that help curb crime and keep the city safe.

One is the auxiliary police, volunteers who are armed, uniformed and fully trained as policemen, providing an additional level of security at high-traffic events.

Last summer, HPPD brought back the bike patrol, with about 12 auxiliary officers riding out into the community in full uniform on mountain bikes, checking parks and schoolyards to make sure they’re safe, and helping secure crowded functions. 

Then there’s the Mobile Communications Support Unit, which consists of 20 or so unarmed volunteers who equip their vehicles with special beacons and patrol the streets and parking lots of Hazel Park, where crimes can occur, communicating with police dispatch on a direct radio line to serve as the first line of defense in the event of trouble.

In all cases, the volunteers are unpaid. Along with Community Watch, these efforts have made the city a better place to live, said Shelley O’Brien, management assistant to the Hazel Park city manager.

“We did have a couple of problem areas, and in those problem areas, there have been some Neighborhood Watch groups formed,” O’Brien said. “Since we have been working with these groups, the crime has gone down, the vandalism has gone down, and that’s because the neighbors have come together to watch out for their neighborhood.

“If we could get this kind of involvement in all of our neighborhoods,” she concluded, “we’ll have a much safer Hazel Park.”

For more information about Community Watch, call (248) 542-6161, ext. 254. Community Watch meets at Hazel Park High School, 23400 Hughes, at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.