Neighborhood Watch

Residents attend organizational meeting

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One man showed up because his two daughters had become methamphetamine addicts in Craig and he wanted to be part of the solution to curb the drug's use in the community. Another woman -- who is involved in a group to help crime victims -- arrived because she knows the domestic problems that accompany meth use. A third woman who came wanted to keep an eye out for meth users that her daughter may come into contact with.

About a dozen people from Craig met for an organizational Neighborhood Watch meeting Tuesday night.

Though none were neighbors, the group vowed to begin keeping their eyes open for crime, with a focus largely on meth use.

"What catches more criminals is the little old lady sitting in her house with a pair of binoculars," said Tony Stoffle, a Neighborhood Watch organizer. "We want to get massive amounts of people out there to keep their eyes open."

The premise of Neighborhood Watch or community policing isn't new, but a town-wide effort may be a first for Craig.

As a result of the newly formed Communities Overcoming Meth Abuse task force, groups have begun taking on committee assignments including education, advertising and fundraising.

But Neighborhood Watch may be one way to involve the largest segment of the population in curbing a crime rate that mostly is connected with meth use, police said.

The Craig Police Department has identified 11 areas of town for Neighborhood Watch organizations. Volunteers at Tuesday's meeting signed releases for police to conduct criminal background checks. They also informally agreed to spread the news about Neighborhood Watch, either by going door to door or among friends.

Neighborhood Watch organizations are non-confrontational ways of community policing, Stoffle said.

Volunteers are encouraged to keep a low profile but report any suspicious activities to the authorities.

"Don't take the law into your own hands," Stoffle said. "If you wind up seeing a domestic dispute, don't jump into the middle of it."

According to a Neighborhood Watch coordinator at Columbine Apartments, the number of calls to police for service has drastically reduced in the past year. The organizer did not want to be identified.

Last September, police responded to 130 calls, but police only responded to seven calls during the same month this year, she said.

At the meeting's end, volunteers chatted with one another explaining reasons for wanting to join. People gathered over personal tales of suspected meth use by neighbors or someone they knew. Keeping an eye out for neighbors and reporting suspicious activities was one way to take back a town that an organizer labeled as "a dangerous community to live in."

In upcoming meetings, volunteers will be given more direction about how to proceed with keeping an eye on crime, while staying safe, organizers said.

"You can't have too many eyes out there," Stoffle said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@cragdailypress.com.

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