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Crime watch program revived

Participants hope to help combat vandalism in town

Participants hope to help combat vandalism in town

May 15, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

andreabh@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Ne'er-do-wells beware. Williamsport's neighborhood crime watch program has been revived.

A group of concerned citizens and town officials recently rekindled interest in the program to make Williamsport a safer place, they said.

"This is homeland security on a local level," said Deputy Jim Holsinger, who helps coordinate neighborhood crime watch programs through the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Crime watch participants hope especially to help combat vandalism in the town, they said.

"It's important for our residents to know that their neighbors care," said Mayor John W. Slayman, who is among 10 block captains now enlisted in the crime watch program.

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"I think everyone wants a safer community. This is a way to bring the community together," Senior Block Captain Debi Robinson said.

In addition to encouraging participation in the program, block captains patrol specific areas of town and serve as liaisons between other block watchers and law enforcement officers. They also distribute literature about burglary, vandalism and other neighborhood crimes.

Crime watch participants will canvas different sectors of Williamsport in two- to three-hour shifts, contacting police by telephone if they witness suspicious activity during their patrols, Neighborhood Crime Watch Chairwoman Gloria Bitner said.

"We need eyes and ears," said resident Deputy Mike Palladino of the Sheriff's Department. "We don't want anybody going hands-on if they witness a crime. No one should open themselves up for bodily injury or liability."

Block captains and watchers will team up to look for suspicious activity as they drive, walk their dogs and ride their bikes through town, they said. They will scan the streets and alleys as they sit on their porches and look out their windows throughout the evening.

Integrating patrol shifts into such regular activities will increase the program's staying power, Holsinger said.

It's also important that crime watch participants keep an open line of communication with their neighbors to make everyone feel like a part of the team trying to make the community a safer place, he said.

"The more pleasant and neighborly you keep it, the more the program will be accepted," Holsinger said. "Williamsport has a great program because of dedicated residents and fantastic support from the town government."

Williamsport's neighborhood crime watch has been established since 1998 but participation has waned in recent years, said founding member Bitner, a town councilwoman.

A recent rash of vandalism - including graffiti in the community pool, small fires in the town park's restrooms, vehicle break-ins and smashed windows - has renewed residents' interest in the crime watch program, Bitner said.

She, Slayman and residents such as Robinson, Chris and Gary Grimes, and Town Councilman Jim McCleaf have already signed on to patrol certain sections of town, they said.

The more block watchers involved in the program, the more successful it will be, Bitner said.

Program participants are charged with helping prevent crime, she said, not trying to stop such "petty" offenses as young people skateboarding on the sidewalks and breaking the town's curfew.

To serve as a block watcher, please call Williamsport Town Hall at 301-223-7711. Neighborhood crime watch participants meet at 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at Town Hall.

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