Knowing neighbors can help deter crime

Published 2:51 pm Friday, November 20, 2009

This past summer a woman in Cambridge, Mass., called police when she spotted an unknown figure breaking into her neighbor’s home. When the police arrived on the scene, the figure turned out to be none other than that very neighbor, prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

As many are aware, the following events caused quite a scandal, bringing up issues of race, police protocol and who was at fault. But the real question posed is whether the situation could have been avoided altogether had the neighbor who dialed 911 known her neighbor better.

Most people who live in large cities would claim they do not know their neighbors and in some cases have never even seen some of them. But small towns are known for everyone knowing everyone, aren’t they? Perhaps not anymore.

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According to Bainbridge Public Safety Capt. Ryan Wimberly, most people in Bainbridge now do not know their neighbors.

Wimberly states that knowing one’s neighbors and their habits can help stop crime. The more every individual knows the habits, such as the comings and goings, of their neighbors, the better they will be able to detect if something suspicious is going on.

In an attempt to promote friendliness among those in a neighborhood, Wimberly is reviving the Neighborhood Watch program. The program encourages residents to look out for one another, keeping watch over houses to prevent break-ins and robberies.

The program, which had been previously run by the city, revived by Wimberly in 2008. He said that the program is best run by groups of people and not by one single individual or the city as a whole.

“These are not vigilante groups. They aren’t there to handle major problems, but to act as the eyes and ears for the police,” said Wimberly.

The habits of every individual are different just as every neighborhood is different; whereas someone taking a late night jog at midnight may be normal in one neighborhood, it might be considered strange or suspicious in another.

Wimberly offers classes to neighborhoods interested in beginning a Watch program. He teaches the importance of getting to know whom someone lives by and fostering a pride for one’s neighborhood. The groups are run completely by the community; the police only act as a liaison. He also teaches how to solve minor disputes between individuals, so that the police are free to tend to larger problems.

In addition to simply getting to know everyone in a neighborhood, residents are also urged to get together occasionally to update on what has been happening in the area. The meetings can be anything from getting together and having coffee to having a formal meeting with agendas and newsletters—whatever works best for everyone in the group. They can also meet as frequently as they feel necessary—perhaps once a week or maybe as occasionally as once every couple of months.

When meeting, neighbors should alert one another to any anticipated alterations in routine such as upcoming trips or family members coming for a visit.

Keeping an eye out for those who live near by and coming forward if an individual witnesses something suspicious are the best deterrents for crime.

“Most crimes go unsolved because eyewitnesses won’t come forward. We want to encourage people to come forward with what they see. Evidence in a case is important, but the best thing to have is an eye witness.”

If anyone is interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch group, they are encouraged to contact Capt. Ryan Wimberly at Bainbridge Public Safety at (229) 248- 2038.