Watch improves county neighborhood

March 09, 1997


Staff Writer

When Harold Eichelberger formed a neighborhood watch at Lakeside Mobile Home Park in 1992, the community was struggling with vandalized cars and groups of youths out late at night.

By the time he moved for health reasons two years ago, late-night disturbances were all but a thing of the past.

To longtime residents, the difference is palpable.

"Oh my word, yes," said Betty Shaffer, who helps patrol the neighborhood with her husband. "Big change. (Residents are) not afraid to walk around the park anymore."


Officials at the Washington County Sheriff's Department said there are a handful of other neighborhood watch programs in the county, like Halfway and Williamsport. But they point to Lakeside as a model - one of the oldest and most proactive.

Its members patrol the community in trucks bearing a Neighborhood Watch insignia. They report suspicious activity to "base houses" by CB radio. Members wear Neighborhood Watch hats when they walk around. They are never far from a telephone.

Deputy James D. Holsinger, who coordinates the county's watch programs, said property crimes, public drinking and other problems dropped dramatically the first six months of the program.

"These things have slowed down and pretty much tapered off to nothing," he said.

Neighborhood watch groups tend to run in cycles, said 1st Sgt. Doug Mullendore. He said interest kindles when crime becomes noticeable and then subsides when the number of crimes eases up.

Although neighborhood statistics are not available, Mullendore said the effect of some watch programs is obvious. He pointed to Lakeside as a prime example.

"There's no question there's much less of a problem in that particular one," he said. "At first, it's a gradual thing. Then once people see that the watch is said up and people are going to call us, it drops off pretty drastically.

"But it takes awhile for that word to get out."

Holsinger said the Sheriff's Department has worked aggressively to set up new watch programs. Deputy Kenneth Cain is working with residents of School House Court in Boonsboro. Holsinger will meet later this month with Keedysville residents.

In Keedysville, Councilwoman Yvonne Hope has been organizing a watch to head off any growth in crime.

"We probably have a little bit of everything that falls in the minor category," she said. "I don't think we have any major problem. But given the way the county is changing, we'd like to keep it that way."

Rick Ghur, who patrols Lakeside, said volunteers once spotted a burglary in progress at A-1 Truck Painting across the street. They have broken up Halloween mischief.

While they call the Sheriff's Department for serious incidents, Ghur said he has found many problems are more easily resolved.

"We've been able to take care of a lot of our problems on our own," he said.

To Holsinger, neighborhood watch programs are simply a return to an era when people looked out for their neighbors.

Over the years, he said people have erected fences and hedges and society has become more mobile.

"What that has done is given crime a shot in the arm," he said.

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