Laura Berry shows officers the flyers she made to let her neighbors know about Thursday's Community Neighborhood Watch session she's asked police to host to try to get the program re-established in her neighborhood. Sulphur Springs Police Chief Jim Bayuk looks on the city map at the intended area for the watch program, which spans from Texas Street west to League Street between Lee Street and Industrial Drive. Berry is working the SSPD Lt. Rex Morgan (second from right) and Volunteers on Patrol officer Bob Birney (right) to get the watch program established. Anyone interested in starting or reviving a Neighborhood Watch program is invited to attend the informational session, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 125 South Davis St.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Rewinding the Watch

Woman works to re-establish once-vibrant Neighborhood Watch program

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

April 22, 2008 - It may be hard to believe, but in the early 1990s, Sulphur Springs had 52 Neighborhood Watch groups, active associations of neighbors who banded together to watch out for one another.

But families move, schedules get busier, and people turn apathetic. Those are believed to be the reasons why today, despite the faded signs of bygone days, the city has no active Neighborhood Watch groups.

Now, Laura Berry is on a mission to make her neighborhood a safer place by re-establishing the Neighborhood Watch program in the block just south of Sulphur Springs Middle School.

Berry, a mother of three, invites anyone who lives in the 124 residences between West Industrial Drive and Lee, League and Texas streets to an organizational meeting at City Hall this Thursday, April 24, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"I've been working on this for two years," said Berry, who hopes to work with neighbors to improve her neighborhood. "I want to keep our neighborhood safe. In the 15 years I've lived here, the town [has really grown and changed]. There seems to be a 'me and mine' attitude, taking care of me and mine. I want to bring more community awareness."

The local Neighborhood Watch program is a product of the Sulphur Springs Police Department's emergency management division and the Department of Homeland Security. Security training tips will be offered through the Neighborhood Watch Program.

While her own neighborhood is the only area Berry is working on, any city resident interested in forming or re-starting a watch group may attend Thursday's Community Neighborhood Watch program.

"Where I live, most don't know who their neighbors are, and wouldn't know the difference if someone was messing around their neighbors' place that shouldn't," said Berry, who estimates that 50 percent of the people she's polled have expressed an interest in a Neighborhood Watch program.

Her efforts to renew the community group stem from incidents over the last few years, such as catching a peeping tom looking into a girl's window down the street and stolen bicycles and weed trimmers.

Berry said rarely have such thefts been reported to police because neighbors indicate they don't feel it's worth the effort, citing the unlikelihood of ever having the items returned.

If neighbors are more aware and willing to take part, the effort can help police officers and Volunteers on Patrol do their jobs better.

"I think our police are proactive, but we could do a lot more to help them keep up," she said.

Bob Birney, a Volunteers on Patrol field training officer and instructor, explained that VOP officers help the regular police force in various ways, such as house watches for people who are out of town, or writing citations for able-bodied drivers who park in handicapped spots.

"The city budget doesn't have a lot of money for extra officers to keep up with growth," said Birney, who is also a retired Los Angeles, Calif., County police officer.

But like police, even the dedicated volunteers can't be everywhere all the time. That's where Neighborhood Watch programs come in.

Anyone interested in forming or learning more about watch programs can attend the Community Neighborhood Watch program to be hosted at City Hall, 125 South Davis St., from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, which will include presentations and security tips offiered by the police department and VOP members.

The presentation will cover the basics of what a Neighborhood Watch program does during a presentation that is expected to take about an hour.

Neighborhood Watch groups generally consist of residents along a one- to two-block area. People within the group become the "eyes and ears for the police department" by keeping tabs on the goings-ons within their block and reporting suspicious or criminal activity to the police, according to Lt. Rex Morgan, who heads the police department's emergency management division.

Participating neighborhoods would have one to two captains, usually people who are home most of the day. Block captains keep a list of and are familiar with the residents and homeowners in the watch area.

Meetings are generally conducted at least once every three months, usually at the home of one of the captains or participating residents. Police officers and other security and safety officials periodically would present information on how to report a crime and what kind of activity to look for, as well as other safety information topics tailored to meet the varied needs of each group.

For more information, contact Lt. Morgan at the Sulphur Springs Police Department, 125 South Davis St., by calling 903-885-7602.

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