Watching out for each other

A nearby apartment's loud parties and visitors at all hours of the night used to bother Central Point resident Rick Bartlett. That was before Bartlett's small neighborhood in an older section of town collaborated with local police.

"My neighbor and I were having quite a few issues with an apartment where people would come and go all times of the day — people we'd never seen before. Then my neighbor had some stuff ripped off from his backyard, so I thought, 'Well, maybe we need to get organized and see what we can do,' " Bartlett recalls.

Now a Neighborhood Watch captain, Bartlett credits the program's signage, newsletters and collaboration with police — along with the coordination of neighbors — for resolving their problems.

When successful, Neighborhood Watch programs reduce crime, improve neighborhood communication and forge partnerships with law enforcement.

A tool used nationwide, such programs are easy to get started but require motivation to keep them going. The most successful groups often are initiated by property owners with common interests or neighbors already connected by retirement communities, single streets or homeowner associations.

Once local police receive a neighborhood's request to form a group, a meeting time is advertised for residents to meet with an officer. While keeping an eye on the neighborhood is something most folks do without much effort, Medford community-service officer Todd Sales says Neighborhood Watch provides resources to more effectively discourage crime.

In addition to some basic training on how to coordinate efforts between neighbors, Sales says Watch groups can gain access to law-enforcement tools such as updates on crime trends, training videos, signage to deter would-be crooks and even permission to block off sections of a neighborhood for a block party.

"Right off the bat, we had (the police) get some signs for us, and Public Works put them in," Bartlett says.

"As soon as we put the signs up, I noticed right away that we didn't have the issues we had before. I think the signs make a little bit of difference — if they see something on your door that says 'Neighborhood Watch,' I think they're prone to shy away if they're up to no good."

Central Point community-service officer Ron Barnett says Neighborhood Watch is a true partnership with police in which residents are taught to become "eyes and ears" for law enforcement.

In Central Point, a half-dozen groups have formed. Medford has more than 200.

Barnett says Neighborhood Watch programs tend to be more difficult to establish during times when the housing market is suffering, but they are more crucial than ever.

"One thing that has happened over the last year is a lot of people have lost their homes or moved out, and when Watch captains move, the groups tend to disintegrate pretty quickly," Barnett says.

"On the other hand, it's even more important for neighbors to be looking out for one another and watching for suspicious activity."

An added bonus, Barnett and Sales say, is Watch groups are familiar with beat cops working their neighborhoods, and they receive updates when schedules change. Sales says his agency also has offered seminars on topics such as high-tech crimes and fire safety.

"When you form a neighborhood, aside from serving as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police, you're sharing information with your neighbors," Sales says.

"You're letting them know what cars you drive, what hours you're away from home, when you go on vacation and sometimes what's going on in the alley behind you. You have a network.

"Our slogan is, 'If it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't,' " Sales adds. "This is one more tool to help police and neighborhoods to connect and do something that most neighbors should do already."

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