Tuesday, September 20, 2011

MANA Neighborhood Watch Meeting notes

The MANA Neighborhood Watch met on the evening of Sept. 19 to discuss what we may do, as a community, to prevent crime. Forty-eight people were in attendance.

Barbara (Neighborhood Watch chair) reminded the audience of coming activities (the Yard Sale on Oct 1, Halloween Trick or Treating on the 31st, and of the MANA community meeting scheduled for the 24th). She then explained that MANA consists of around 1200 homes, divided in 60 grids.  Ideally, each grid would have a coordinator. The way the Watch works is coordinators are the point person for their grid. If an incident happens or suspicious activity is reported, the coordinator relays the information to the Watch by emailing manawatch@gmail.com.  [Note: Anyone can email a report or concern to that address, however, the system works best if the block coordinator is not left out of the loop.] It is most helpful if the report has as much information as possible as to the incident: time, location descriptions of suspects, was a police report filed, etc.

Barbara said she pulled crime data for the last five months and noted 18 crimes (theft of landscaping equipment, AC units; five vehicle thefts; two vehicle break-ins; three burglaries). A neighbor added that bikes were stolen from his home on Harrington and Barbara encouraged him to get in touch with his coordinator or email manawatch@gmail.com to provide additional information to share with the community. The neighbor said he would do so, but that as reported by another neighbor, the bicycles were taken by an individual wearing a white shirt and a white cap who took the items and simply walked down the street. This person been seen around the neighborhood before.

Barbara and other neighbors also shared concerns about a man called Eddie who was arrested in the neighborhood over a year ago for outstanding warrants. His MO is to mow lawns without permission, then knock on the door and demand payment. He may also approach residents with a story that he used to do work in that house for previous owners, apparently in a ploy to establish credibility. He was seen on Desmond as recently as a couple weeks ago. Eddie is described as a "large African American male, ~5'8" - to 6 feet in height" who drives a blue Dodge Ram with tinted windows. If you see him, call 911.

Barbara mentioned another crime that caused some concern, a hold-up at Medlock Park that reportedly occurred after the pool party. The credibility of the report is now in question.

It was also explained that Dekalb County soliciting law requires that anyone selling a product or service must have a permit with photo; this permit should be printed on white paper. The permit approval process includes a background check. The individual must have the permit in his/her possession while soliciting. There were questions about an individual who has been soliciting recently but neighbors confirmed he appeared to represent a charity and had a permit. The question came up about boy or girl scouts--do they need permits? Probably not, also, they are typically with a parent. But Barbara jokingly warned that 20-year olds in scout uniforms may not be on the up and up. There was a question about individuals who are not soliciting but rather, proselytizing. The answer, to general laughter,  was that "if they come for your money, they need a permit but if they come for your soul, they don't."

Doug and Jennifer mentioned they helped organize the meeting and shared some general safety tips, audience members also made suggestions:
  • beef up your home security
  • don't post updates about your whereabouts on Facebook (or anywhere online for that matter)
  • let neighbors know if contractors are coming to your home. Let your contractor know that your neighbor may ask to see their IDs
  • don't share information about your neighbors without their permission
  • find reputable contractors through word of mouth (vs. door-to-door soliciting)
  • if you see anything suspicious, call 911
  • ensure valuables in your home (e.g. big-screen TVs) are not easily visible from outside the home
  • keep your doors locked
  • do not open the door to greet people you don't know. Some neighbors suggested saying "I do not open my door to strangers" or simply not answering the knock.
  • do not discuss details about the neighborhood watch on the Facebook group, as it is open to the public

Chris Hunt talked about his training with DeKalb Police to become certified under the Volunteers In Patrol (VIP). This is a Dekalb Police program that consists of classroom instruction then ride-alongs with DeKalb police officers. Once certified, the individual must complete at least 4 hours of patrol time per month and must submit a log. The trainees are not armed, cannot pursue suspects; they are trained to observe and report. When on duty, a VIP will wear an identifying vest and if in a car, the vehicle will have a large magnetic sticker on its door. Chris is happy to answer questions about the program but notes that he cannot train others as that is best done by the VIP program.

It was noted that if a neighbor patrols in an unmarked vehicle (driving slowly, paying close attention to surroundings), this may alarm others. Barbara noted that if one's driving behind such a vehicle, it may be possible to use a cell phone camera to capture the license then forward it to the Watch, which in turn will follow up with the police.

There were two ideas that the audience saw worthy of follow-up. The neighbors who made these suggestions are conducting additional research and will forward the information to the MANA watch, which will in turn report to the MANA board and the community:
  • surveillance cameras: noting that there are ~8 entry points into the neighborhood, cameras could be positioned to record vehicles that enter/exit MANA. If an incident is reported, the footage can be reviewed for additional clues. There were questions about the cost of the cameras, maintenance, and whether it would be legal to mount them on telephone poles, etc.
  • a non-volunteer (paid) patrol, in particular during times when folks are most likely to be at work. The patrol could be a private security guard or an off-duty police officer. Audience members familiar with other neighborhoods who employ off-duty officers cited sample costs of $85-$150/yr per home being monitored.
Barbara closed the meeting by saying she does not see a huge increase in crime per the data she reviewed, however, that it may seem that way due to increased awareness and reporting through the e-bulletins and Facebook page.