Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Reserve Deputy Barney Brause met with a large group of Fern Valley residents to discuss the Sheriff’s Neighborhood Watch Program. Brause is the department’s trainer for the Idyllwild and Pine Cove area. The Thursday, June 21, meeting was Brause’s first Watch meeting since being certified as trainer by Hemet Station Administrative Sergeant Jim Wilson.
Fern Valley resident, Charlie Wix and wife Kay initiated and organized the meeting. About 20 Fern Valley neighbors attended. Wix had contacted neighbors prior to scheduling the meeting to ascertain interest in forming a Neighborhood Watch. Wix then distributed flyers to neighbors announcing the meeting time and place. “We only left flyers with neighbors who were home so that as not to reveal residents were away,” said Kay.
At the Thursday meeting, Brause explained that Neighborhood Watch groups are effective crime deterrents because residents are most likely to recognize suspicious activity and people in their neighborhoods. He explained that neighbors who are connected by phone trees and emails can best observe suspicious activities, verify with their neighbors whether vehicles or individuals in the area are legitimate or not, and report, if appropriate, to the Sheriff’s Department. He emphasized that “watch” is the key element in Neighborhood Watch.
“Observe and share information,” said Brause. “Without an immediate physical threat, your job is to back off and observe. But always let the Sheriff’s Department know if you see something [that appears criminal in nature] in progress. Let them know it’s in progress and that a deputy is required as quickly as possible.”
Brause said Neighborhood Watch effectiveness boils down to common sense. “It’s your preservation of your neighborhood. Use teamwork. Record license numbers and descriptions of suspicious vehicles and persons; people taking unusual shortcuts through yards; and repairmen, deliverymen or visitors acting inappropriately. Verify with neighbors if someone should be in or at the house. If it is unauthorized, then report it to the Department.”
Wix requested landline phone numbers, cell numbers, physical addressed and emails of attending residents for a master list that would be distributed among Watch participants. “The more information we have the better,” said Wix. “Let your neighbors know when you’re going to be gone for extended periods.” Wix pointed out the challenge is that 50 to 60 percent of Fern Valley homes are part-time and that’s it’s important to have a full-time resident captain, secretary or other lead organizers and contacts.
Brause advised saturating the neighborhood with Watch signs in places easily visible from the street. “Outside alarms, spot or strobe lights using motion sensors are also effective deterrents,” said Brause. He said he’d get back to the group on costs of Neighborhood Watch signs and ordering procedure. He also advised scheduling a follow-up meeting to distribute sign up information and solidify action procedures.
Information normally collected and used by participants includes names of adults and children at the specific address, home and work phones, and description of vehicle or vehicles normally at the house. Brause emphasized that the information would only be shared within the specific Neighborhood Watch network.
Neighborhood Watch packets are available at the Town Crier and by contacting Brause at (951) 791-3406. Other towns, including the Pinyon communities on the Hill, are setting up virtual Neighborhood Watches where suspicious activity can be logged online. For outlying and rural areas, these virtual sites can function as effective crime deterrents. The Rancho Mirage Police Department set up a virtual Neighborhood Watch by partnering with www.nextdoor.com, a free and private social network site available for specific Rancho Mirage neighborhoods. Neighborhoods establish and self-manage their own Nextdoor websites. Nextdoor information is only visible to members in a specific neighborhood and is password protected for residents in that neighborhood. A quick check of the site showed it’s available in the Fern Valley area.
Forming Neighborhood Watch groups was one of three community responses that received significant support at a series of community meetings that began in June 2011. Concerned citizens called the meetings to discuss possible community responses following incidents of vandalism, graffiti attacks and hate crimes that took place in 2010. Since then, a dramatic escalation in property crimes, including residential and commercial burglaries and an armed robbery, has taken place.