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How safe is your neighborhood
Officers promote watch programs
pines watch 013
Hinesville Crime Prevention Office Jon Williams speaks to a neighborhood watch group about the dangers of cell phone use while driving and discusses inappropriate texting, called “sext-ing,” by youth. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge

What watch members do

• Recognize who belongs in your community and who doesn’t.

• Don’t hesitate to call 911 if something looks suspicious.

• Look at car tags, observe strangers.

 The statistics

Three of 12 neighborhood watches in Hinesville were established in 2006. HPD Crime Prevention Officer Jon Williams said there is often an increase in calls when a group is actively looking out for suspicious activity. As for the increase in foot patrols, watch groups tend to generate a greater police presence, he said.

January-February 2006

Cherokee Circle: 29 calls
Pines at Willowbrook: 26 calls
White Tail Circle: Nine calls

January-February 2010

Cherokee Circle: 14 calls; there were 15 foot patrols
Pines at Willowbrook: 11 calls and 30 foot patrols
White Tail Circle: Nine calls and one foot patrol (NOTE: Williams said this neighborhood has grown in four years and explained that six of the nine calls in 2006 were due to false alarms.)

The Pines at Willowbrook residents greeted one another with smiles and hugs last week before the start of their February neighborhood watch meeting. Parents with teens, tweens and toddlers in tow settled themselves in their community club house while apartment manager Cynthia Bryant and a group of neighborhood watch volunteers offered refreshments.
The apartment community’s neighborhood watch meets each month. Residents gather to learn about crime prevention and safety and to air concerns. And, they get to know one another and even have a little fun.
Pines at Willowbrook resident Sheila Westfall said she tries to stay in her community’s neighborhood watch.
“It’s important for me to know what goes on where I live,” Westfall said. “Neighborhood watch can be (established) in any neighborhood. Having one makes me feel more secure. You feel better when you go home. You feel safe.”
Westfall displays a neighborhood watch sticker on her apartment window. So, if she sees teenagers out past curfew looking as though they could get into trouble, she taps on her window and points to the sticker, she said.
Hinesville Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Jon Williams, who coordinates the city’s Neighborhood Watch Program, offered The Pines at Willowbrook residents a class about the dangers of cell phone use while driving and he spoke about the growing problem of inappropriate texting, called “sexting,” by youth. In April, Williams will help Bryant coordinate a self-defense class for the community’s neighborhood watch group.
“At each meeting training is done. The participants let me know what they want to train on next, what they want to talk about next,” Williams said. “I try to answer their questions and take down their concerns and complaints and take them to the chief.”
Williams said the Hinesville Police Department initiated Hinesville’s Neighborhood Watch Program in 2000. The HPD crime prevention officer said the city has about 190 subdivisions, but only 12 neighborhood watches. He hopes to establish more.
Williams said local statistics show neighborhood watch helps decrease criminal activity.
Three of the 12 neighborhood watch groups in Hinesville were established in 2006, he said.
These include The Pines at Willowbrook, Cherokee Circle and White Tail Circle.
From January-February 2006, The Pines at Willowbrook had 26 calls to HPD. Cherokee Circle had 29 calls and White Tail Circle had 9.
This past January and February, The Pines at Willowbrook had 11 calls and 30 reports of foot patrols. Cherokee Circle had 14 calls and 15 foot patrols. White Tail Circle reported nine calls and one foot patrol. White Tail Circle’s call statistics remained the same in 2006 and 2010, Williams said, but emphasized the community has grown in four years. And, six of the nine calls made in 2006 were attributed to false alarms, he said.
Overall, incidents of crime have gone down since these groups were formed, Williams affirmed. However, the HPD officer stressed that sometimes there is an increase in calls when a watch group is actively looking out for suspicious activity. As for the increase in foot patrols, watch groups tend to generate a greater police presence, he said.
Bryant, a neighborhood watch captain, thinks having a neighborhood watch has improved the quality of life for residents at the Pines.
“When I came, there were problems,” she said. “The problems weren’t with the residents, they were with non-residents. There was a lot of driving on and off (property) going on.”
Bryant said it benefits residents to recognize who belongs in their community and who doesn’t. “If you suspect something, it’s fine for you to call 911,” she said
The watch captain said residents learn to look at car tags and to observe strangers.
Bryant said The Pines at Willowbrook residents, through the watch group, are planning a safety fun day for the community this spring. Police officers and the Hinesville Fire Department will be invited to participate, the later to bring the HFD smoke house, she said.
“We’ve done this for the past two years,” Bryant said.
She explained the Pines at Willowbrook consists of 80 units, 64 of which are for low-income residents. Low income does not necessarily translate into criminal activity, she said.
“We have some great kids here,” Bryant said. “It’s a property you can be proud to live in.”
“We also want it to be a safe place to live,” she added. “That is the reason for having a neighborhood watch.”
Hinesville city residents who want to establish a neighborhood watch can call Williams at 408-8242.

Editor’s note: This is part II in a two-part series on neighborhood watches in Liberty County and the city of Hinesville.

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