Columbus County’s Community Watch Program was implemented in 1978 under Sheriff Clayton Norton as a crime prevention program aimed at involving a total community. The Community Watch Program flourished in its early years, receiving the Governor’s Award in 1980. However lack of participation and interest led to the decline of the program over the last decade. Under the direction of Sheriff Lewis L. Hatcher, the program has once again taken aim becoming one of the best in the state. The program focuses on encouraging community members to form watch groups in given areas and to report anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in their area or neighborhood(s). During regularly scheduled meetings, members discuss issues regarding security of their homes and neighborhoods. Members are encouraged to participate in projects such as property identification via marking, photographing and most importantly, listing all of their valuables. Members are then encouraged to place their lists in a very safe place. Members are also asked to participate in home security checks, these participants are given advice on how different types of locks and doors can help delay or withstand kicking or prying by suspects attempting to gain entry.
The general purpose of the program is based on the concept of people looking out for one another. At the same time it lets potential criminals know that someone is watching out for them. This is the foundation for crime prevention. The opportunity, desire and ability to commit particular crimes are reduced at a specific location and time. This creates an atmosphere that is conducive to deterring overall crime.
This program takes teamwork and effort on everyone’s part, including law enforcement.
WHAT IS COMMUNITY WATCH?
COMMUNITY WATCH is a Crime Prevention program that involves citizens working with each other and with the Sheriff’s Office to reduce crime and victimization in their communities. It involves:
1. Citizens protecting themselves and their property by using common sense crime prevention practices.
2. Neighbors getting to know each other, watching out for each other and acting on or reporting suspicious activities.
3. Citizens working with groups, community leaders, and, more importantly, law enforcement agencies to make entire communities safe and free from crime.
CITIZEN ALERT, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH, BLOCK WATCH, or COMMUNITY WATCH: the names may differ, but the idea is the same. Neighbors looking out for each other.
WHY START A COMMUNITY WATCH?
Because law enforcement officers cannot be on every street corner, citizen involvement is necessary to combat crime. On average, there are approximately two law enforcement officers for every 1,000 citizens. You and your neighbors are the ones who really know what is going on in your community. By cooperating with each other and with the police, citizens can help fight crime in the most effective way – preventing the victimization of themselves, their families and friends. You are the key element in fighting crime. GET INVOLVED!
COMMUNITY WATCH WORKS
The goal of COMMUNITY WATCH is to make criminals aware that every move is being watched and will be reported to the police. Across North Carolina, citizens work together to secure their homes, mark their valuables, identify drug dealers, develop child safety programs, and improve the environment in which they and their families live.
TO START A COMMUNITY WATCH
1. Contact the Crime Prevention Officer with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office about setting up a COMMUNITY WATCH program. Lieutenant Dwayne Barnes can assist with information, materials and technical advice. Lieutenant Barnes can be reached at 910-642-6551 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Schedule a meeting with your neighbors in a church, home, community building, volunteer fire department or other location.
3. Invite the Crime Prevention Officer or other law enforcement officer to speak at your original meeting to help get your COMMUNITY WATCH program started.
4. Contact every resident in your community and invite them to the meeting. Do this by making door-to-door visits, phone calls, or mailing flyers.
5. Hold your meeting.
HOW TO MAINTAIN AN ACTIVE COMMUNITY WATCH?
1. Regularly scheduled neighborhood meeting allows members to be kept up-to-date on "what's happening" in their neighborhoods.
2. From time-to-time have neighborhood/community get-togethers. Have a big social at a member’s house and get to know one another better. Meetings are for business and some socializing, but the cookouts, barbecue, softball games and picnics have a more personal effect and aid in building a strong sense of community.
COMMUNITY WATCH WORKS WHEN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED AND STAY INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY WATCH ACTIVITIES
3. Finally, have days when all members of the community come out and help "clean-up" the area. Take the time to walk the streets and pick-up trash, brush and other items. Also, if a neighbor needs help with maintaining their yard, get together and help as a group.
This program involves engraving your valuable personal property with your driver’s license number thus making it easier to identify if it is stolen. Your local crime prevention officer may be able to supply you with an engraver.
Sponsor a community cleanup effort with your group. You are already working on cleaning up the crime in your community - make it a beautiful place to live at the same time.
Should one of your neighbors be victimized, you can know how to help that person. Contact the local victim’s advocate office, the Division of Victim and Justice Services, or the Department of Social Services for more information.
Your group may wish to sponsor a McGruff House program for children. This gives children a safe place to go if they feel frightened or threatened.
Community Watch Signs
You may wish to purchase signs that identify your community as a place where citizens look after each other. Your local law enforcement agency will be able to assist you.
National Night Out
Every year, the National Town Watch Association invites communities to participate in National Night Out Against Crime. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the Crime Prevention Unit of the Governor’s Crime Commission for more information.
There may be some specific crime problems in your neighborhood that your Community Watch group wants to target. Educate your members on such topics as:
Drug Abuse Prevention
Sexual Abuse Prevention
Child Abuse Prevention
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design… and many others. Don’t limit yourselves!
Criminals gravitate to places where they feel safe and secure. They avoid neighborhoods where they are likely to get caught. When they are neither wanted nor welcome, they go someplace else. Start a COMMUNITY WATCH program today!!
PERSONAL SAFETY TIPS
The most important tool in crime prevention is your mind. When used effectively and coupled with a confidant attitude and keen awareness, you can avoid dangerous confrontations with potential assailants. This will decrease your chances of becoming a victim. Conversely, a timid or fearful demeanor signals a would-be assailant that you are an easy target. Make it a habit to protect yourself from harm by using common sense and a few standard security devices. But remember, even the most expensive security devices will not keep you safe if you do not use them.
Here are some tips to reduce your chance of being victimized:
- Answer doors and phones so a potential burglar will know your home is occupied.
- Never tell a caller you are alone; give the impression that someone is with you.
- Look through the peephole to see who is outside the door. Never open it to anyone you do not know and trust.
- Verify repairmen with their dispatchers before allowing them inside; have a friend with you or have them call you several times; make these precautions obvious.
- If someone you do not know asks to make an emergency phone call, do not open the door; make the call for them.
- Children are less cautious; be careful about letting them answer the door or phone at an early age.
- If you think that a forced entry has been made, do not go inside! Go to a safe place and get help as soon as possible!
- Plan escape routes and keep emergency numbers posted by your phones.
- In apartment complexes, be cautious of laundry rooms, parking lots, and isolated areas; insist that they be well-lit; use them only when accompanied by a trusted friend or neighbor.
- Consider installing a Caller-ID system to your existing phone line.
- Never give out information about yourself or where you live.
- Do not indicate on your mailbox or in the phone directory that you are a female or living alone.
- If you are confronted and must yell for help, yell "Fire!" This phrase gets the best response from bystanders. Break glass or blow a car horn -- anything to bring attention to your plight.
- There is strength in numbers. Join with neighbors to start an effective Community Watch in your community.
- Never carry large sums of money.
- Carry your purse firmly near your body.
- Avoid flashing money or expensive jewelry.
- Avoid being in isolated areas where an assailant can easily attack you without being witnessed.
- If confronted in an assaultive manner, remove yourself from the situation ASAP and notify the Sheriff’s Office.
- If you are the target of an armed robbery, give the robber what he wants and seek safety immediately. Remember, material possessions can be replaced; your life cannot!
Physical security constitutes 90 percent of burglary prevention. If your home is locked and unauthorized entry is made difficult, time consuming, and conspicuous, chances of a successful burglary are minimized.
• Locks on all outside entrances should be double-cylinder deadbolts with movable collars.
• Door jams must be solid. Exposed hinges should be pinned to prevent removal.
• Windows should have secure locks and should stay locked.
• Lights must provide optimum visibility inside and out, with vandal-proof covers over the outside lights and power source.
• The perimeter must be well-lit, especially around all entry points.
• Alarm systems should be supplied by a licensed alarm company with a central monitoring station.
• Your NCDL or Social Security number should be engraved on enticing objects.
• Keep accurate records of serial numbers on all items to help in recovery.
Home Security Tips
Often, an intruder will be deterred from entering your home if you make it a noisy, difficult, time-consuming, and highly visible task.
• When away, try to make your home look as if it is occupied. Leave lights and a radio on.
• Have a friend or neighbor get your mail and newspaper, or cut the grass if needed.
• Be creative when hiding your valuables; burglars often go straight to the bedroom to look under mattresses, in bedside stands, and in closets for money and jewelry.
• Be a nosy neighbor by reporting any suspicious activity.
Auto Theft is big business and the "pros" can enter and steal a car within seconds. By following a few common rules when using your automobile, you can greatly reduce your chance of becoming a victim of theft.
• Always lock your vehicle;
• Park in well-lit, populated areas that are easily observed by passers-by;
• Never leave the keys inside your car or the engine running unattended;
• Engrave audio and phone equipment with your NCDL or ID number;
• Always lock valuables in the trunk; never leave them in plain view.
In the event of an auto theft, have a thorough description of your vehicle (including serial and license plate numbers) ready for the police. Report the stolen vehicle as soon as possible!
In order to deter a potential thief, a bicycle should have its owner's NCDL or other ID number engraved on its frame. This number, along with the bicycle's serial number and description, should be recorded and kept on hand for police in case of a theft. A few proactive steps can also be taken to increase the security of your bicycle.
• Never leave your bicycle unattended.
• Always store your bicycle in a safe place.
• If you cannot store your bike inside, secure it from theft with a good chain and lock.
• Avoid leaving even a locked bicycle in a public area overnight.
• Do not leave detachable items unsecured on your bicycle. If you have a pouch for carrying money and small items attached to your seat, empty it or take it with you.