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Neighbors watching out for neighbors is effective crime fighting strategy

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POSTED August 4, 2013 11:05 p.m.

Twice neighbors have prevented me from becoming a crime victim.

Five years ago while heading home at 1 o’clock in the morning I pulled over on Powers Avenue so two Manteca Police units with red lights flashing could pass.

Imagine my surprise when I turned onto my street and found one of them in front of my house.

A neighbor across the street who happened to step out for a cigarette noticed a man sitting on my front porch. When the man moved across my carport and tried to climb the gate to the backyard, the neighbor called 9-1-1.

He tried unsuccessfully to get over the fence three times and left just as the police were responding. They caught him 20 minutes later trying to break into another yard in the neighborhood.

About 10 years ago when I lived in a different house, neighbors spotted someone going into our backyard by jumping the fence. Police arrived just as he started fleeing up the street.

There have been perhaps a dozen incidents in Manteca during the past five years or so where alert neighbors saw something amiss at a neighbor’s house, called police, and stayed on the line to help direct officers to suspects.

It can’t be emphasized enough that neighbors are critical to keeping neighborhoods safe. By simply keeping track of their neighbor’s regular routines they can tell when something is amiss. Even if the police had three times the number of officers on duty, they could never do that.

That’s why people partying with their neighbors Tuesday in Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, and across the country as part of National Night Out are indeed helping fight crime. By getting to know your neighbors and doing simple things such as trading phone numbers you can help make your neighborhood safer.

In the case of burglaries in progress, prowlers, or simply spotting strange people acting suspicious having Neighborhood Watch Groups working in tandem with police can pay big dividends fairly quickly.

Suspected illegal ongoing activity in your neighborhood can take longer to resolve. But nothing will happen if you don’t do anything.

A case in point was a suspected drug house in our neighborhood at the height of the foreclosure mess.

There were people going down our alley at all hours of the day and night. It wasn’t usual at 2 a.m. to see more vehicles in front of the house than at a 7-Eleven. Strange people were bicycling in an out of the neighborhood periodically to stop by the house.

All those things were diligently reported online through the Manteca Police website accessible at ww.ci.manteca.ca.us

 Police were indeed monitoring the house periodically but they couldn’t get enough for a search warrant.

How difficult it was to even monitor comings and goings discreetly was underscored the day the CHP auto theft task force stationed two undercover officers in the neighborhood that parked in separate vehicles. One of them, a woman, was startled when an elderly neighbor up the street walked up to her vehicle and asked what she was doing there. The second officer also was discovered by neighbors who saw him sitting in a car for a long period of time and not doing anything.

The CHP eventually did a warrant search but found nothing at the house although they arrested two individuals for parole violations.

Police suspected they were simply making transactions at the house and were moving drugs in and out daily careful not to keep any on the premises for prolonged periods of time.

Ultimately the foreclosure process on the home got rid of the problem.

Everyone needs to realize police don’t fight crime like you see on TV. It is a grind that can often turn into a marathon. They have to follow laws and need to make sure they have enough credible evidence to make a bust stick.

And to obtain search warrants to build cases they need intelligence that can be supplied by people simply being responsible citizens.

As trite as it may sound, evil can only triumph when good people stand by and do nothing.

In the case of our neighborhoods and crime, it doesn’t means being armed to the teeth or even being confrontational. It more often than not requires keeping a watchful eye on your neighborhood and reporting suspicious activity to police.

National Night Out is designed to reset our mentality back in the 1950s. It was a time when everyone knew their neighbors. There weren’t hellish two hour commutes. Not everyone was planted in front of a TV set.  The Internet and personal computing and electronic devices were years away. In many cases both parents didn’t work.

People use to sit on their front porches in the evening and chat with neighbors. At the same time, neighborhoods didn’t become ghost towns during workdays.

Back in the 1950s it was rare if you didn’t know everyone on your block plus a number of folks within a several block radius. Today the opposite is true.

National Night Out’s goal is to get neighbors to know their neighbors. By doing so, criminals won’t be able to operate in a vacuum where suspicious activity goes unnoticed because everyone is minding their own business and have no connection to their neighbors.

Spend the evening Tuesday in a neighbor’s front yard enjoying food and chatting. It could very well end up being the first step toward reducing crime in your neighborhood.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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