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Neighbors, law enforcement band together to curb crime
pl Neighborhood
Neighborhood watch sign
When Michael Santiago and his wife Omara moved into the new development along Wayfair Lane about 10 years ago, their neighborhood was under construction and, was rampant with crime, they said.
“There were two shootings right behind my house before the subdivision was completed and there was another incident where people were throwing eggs at houses and knocking down the mailboxes,” Michael Santiago said. “The whole subdivision had a lot of kids getting into trouble.”
Santiago and his family attended a “Kids Night Out” event hosted by Wal-Mart a couple of years ago and came across the booth that provided information on starting a watch program.
“We have a young child and we decided we wanted to do something to make our neighborhood safer,” Santiago said.
In Liberty County, law enforcement and residents are relying on an old tool to help curb crime locally — the Neighborhood Watch program.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, Neighborhood Watch is the oldest and most effective crime prevention program in the country. The program’s roots can be traced back to the colonial times when night watchmen patrolled the streets.
Sponsored by the National Sheriff’s Association, the program was launched in 1972 to aid law enforcement officials in creating crime prevention programs that involve residents in the community.
 Currently, there are 33 active programs in Hinesville and 15 to 20 in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The goal of the program is to teach residents how to secure their homes and reduce their chances of being crime victims. It encourages neighbors to become more familiar with each other and trains citizens how to recognize and report suspicious activity.  
Hinesville police officer Michael Trombley said the neighborhood watch program is a good way to help lower crime.
“Statistically, neighborhoods that have a watch program have less crime and report more suspicious activity, which deters the criminal element from staying in the community,” he said.
Trombley noted he gladly accepted the offer to become the liaison for the Neighborhood Watch in the city “If someone calls to gather information on starting a program in the their community, I provide the necessary information or I will set up a meeting to sit down and go over the entire process of how to get the program started,” he said.
Trombley will also give presentations during neighborhood meetings on topics ranging from neighborhood security to city ordinances.
Liberty County Sheriff Don Martin is also committed to the program and asked Lt. Danny Pittman to oversee its operation.
“The sheriff is a big supporter of the program and I have a small budget to help groups that maintain a minimum level of activity purchase the supplies they need for their meetings and window stickers,” Pittman said.
Both Pittman and Trombley say the program helps to deter crimes because the neighbors become more vigilant of what is going on around their community and they tend to keep an eye out for each other.
“If someone from the neighbor sees something that appears suspicious, they call the police and we check it out. If that person has a legitimate reason for being there, then there is no problem. But if that person doesn’t belong there, we find out who they are and what they are doing,” Trombley said.
Pittman agreed and said that by being more aware of their surroundings, neighbors are more likely to call when they notice something out of the norm.
 Santiago said crime has reduced dramatically since the program was started in his neighborhood.
He noted not everyone in his neighborhood is an active participant but the few who are make themselves known.
“We have about 25-30 people that actively come to our meetings and really care for the community. They are the ones who really make a difference,” Santiago said.
Pittman and Trombley said it only takes a few people who have the time and are willing to make a commitment to starting and successfully managing a watch program.
“You don’t need the whole neighborhood to sign on to get it started and have a good program, but you do need more than one neighbor that is willing. One person cannot do it all by themselves,” Pittman said.
An added benefit is that more neighbors become aware of their surroundings, including the outward appearance of their houses and yards, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
 “People who care for their neighborhood have less crime, which is why some of our watch programs have neighborhood beautification projects,” Trombley said.
Santiago agreed. His group holds a monthly contest to see who has the best-kept yard. The winner receives a $10 gift card from Lowe’s.
In 2006, the group hosted a spring party for the children of the neighborhood and about 100 people showed up.
Currently the group is organizing a neighborhood beautification and fundraising event to collect donations to add streetlights, signs and plants around the their cul-de-sac.
During their last watch meeting, Hinesville City Councilman Jack Shuman and Director of Inspections Steve Welborn gave brief presentations on zoning and building ordinances, and an update on the newly formed stormwater utility issue.
Gloria Page and Elnora Johnson of Hinesville formed a Neighborhood Watch program in their residential community in Whitetail Circle about three months ago.
On Saturday, around 20 residents gathered in front of Mary and Henry Foreman’s house to discuss crime reduction measures in their neighborhood.
Hinesville City Councilman Kenneth Shaw and Commissioner Donald Lovette attended and participated in the group’s discussion and listened to members’ concerns.
“The community is asking for our help to help clean up the community, and deal with issues like abandoned cars and crime,” Shaw said. “This is my district and I will do the best that I can to represent them.”
“People are taking control and becoming more visible within and about their community and that is a positive motivator for the community,” Lovette said.
The groups discussed items ranging from police protection and trash pickup to the possibilities of creating a children’s playground and cleaning ditches behind houses in their area.
“It brings people together and creates a real sense of community and when people take ownership of their community they get a lot of things done,” Trombley said.

Join the effort
To get a watch program started in your community:
• Determine if there is a need.
• Meet with a few of your neighbors to see if some are willing to actively participate in the program.
• If you live in Hinesville contact officer Michael Trombley at 368-8211, or if you live in the county, call Lt. Danny Pittman at 368-7474 and arrange for a meeting to discuss getting a program started.
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