HALEYVILLE - Residents throughout the community are being urged to recruit their neighbors to become a part of the city’s new Community Watch program, giving law enforcement an extra set of eyes and ears in the fight against crime. Attendance at their first public meeting organizing the program showed the Haleyville Police Department that residents are concerned that crime is on the rise and want to take action. As plans gear up for the second public meeting, planned for Tuesday, Feb. 15, 6 p.m., residents who attended the first public meeting at Haleyville City Hall, are signing up their neighbors in a major effort of being a watchdog for the police department. The first meeting, which actually kicked off the Community Watch program was attended by at least 20 or more residents, 14 to 15 of whom live at Brierwood Subdivision expressing concern about increasing in crime in their area. The meeting was held by the Haleyville Police Department as a way of letting people throughout the community know they are welcome to come onboard an be an extra set of eyes and ears to report suspicious activity to police and be an overall lookout for suspicious activity in their areas. Police Chief Rodney Lewis opened the meeting, held in the City Hall courtroom, by telling residents this new program was a way of getting police more involved in their community. Years ago, the city had a Neighborhood Watch program which required a lot of legal “red tape” and other required preparations, the chief explained. “Instead of doing that, we are going to set up our own Community Watch,” Chief Lewis stated. “In order for this to work, we need y’all’s help.” Each neighborhood will have a committee of residents which will select a chairperson over that committee that will report to police, Lewis explained. “This is the first of probably four meetings that we will have,” Chief Lewis said. “We’ll get y’all started on what you need to do, go over some guidelines that we will set in place.” Once those guidelines are established, the committees will function more independently from the police, with their own meetings. However, the chairperson’s job will remain the same, to keep police informed of any suspicious vehicles, persons or activities in their respective areas. Signs will be distributed to the different communities or neighborhoods, showing a particular area is involved in the Community Watch program, Chief Lewis further explained. “Each community will need at least two signs,” he said. “In order to make this work, it’s going to depend on how much y’all want to work,” Lewis stressed. If residents witness a crime in progress, they should contact Haleyville dispatch at 205-486-5201. However, suspicious activity can be reported directly to police by the respective neighborhood groups, the chief added. Such activities would include high volumes of traffic going in and out of neighborhoods at odd hours, Lewis said. Police Investigator Eddie Collins stated that one of Lewis’ goals when he became chief was to get the department back involved with community policing. “We’re trying to get back to the point that people are more approachable to us as police officers and not that ‘he wrote me a ticket’ or ‘he put me in jail,’” Collins stated. Addressing residents at the meeting, Collins stated their attendance showed their concern about their communities. “The biggest reason for this meeting tonight is so I know which neighborhoods want to participate,” Collins pointed out. “Each community will have their own little organization, and it will run basically how your community wants it to run.” Residents were encouraged to take forms for their neighbors, if they were willing to participate, in order to form a roster, so police will know who is participate is and who the chairperson is of that group will be to notify police. “You are going to go out in your neighborhood and talk to people and get them on board with this, if they choose, so we can establish a roster in each neighborhood that is participating,” Collins said. “What we want are more eyes to pay attention to what is going on,” said Collins. “That is what we want is you guys to be an information source to us, to assist in doing a better job for you, because sometimes we can’t be there, and you are there all the time. “When you see that car that doesn’t belong there, you know it doesn’t belong there. I don’t,” Collins continued. Residents, in such cases, are welcomed to notify police and alert them to the suspicious vehicle, so it can be checked out, he added. “It’s just letting us have a little sharper of an arrow in our arsenal, so we can serve you better, and at the same time, it makes your community safer,” Collins noted. Collins stressed to the audience he did not want neighbors to become police officers and get into dangerous situations, but rather leave those situations to the police and just to be alert and keep the police posted on things going on. “We wear guns and there’s a reason,” Collins pointed out. “Sometimes, the bad guy has a gun or a knife...I don’t want anyone putting themselves in harm’s way at all. You are more of a reporting entity. That is your main job.” Residents who choose to participate in the program will receive training from police on what to look for, as well as how to properly report suspicious activities or a crime in progress. When either dispatch or police are notified, the caller needs to be as descriptive as possible about the situation as well as give the address, if possible, or description of the area. Valeria Taylor noted she had three neighborhoods she checked on. “I also have a building on Alabama Avenue that you are needing to monitor,” Taylor said. Taylor had recently spoken out at a city council meeting about graffiti on certain buildings in the downtown area. “We’ve had a lot of problems with our storage units too,” spoke out Stan Watson Jr. “I even had a bunch of lumber stolen.” “You want a better way of life, that just means more security,” Collins said. “Every community in our city has that one house or that area...There are a lot of folks move in here that we don’t know “They are not moving from Jasper here. They are moving here from other states. They are tired of the type of life they are having to live in, and they want what we have,” Collins said. Collins stressed that if the citizens did not get involved in Community Watch, the program would not work. “You can put up 400 signs, but those signs won’t call us,” Collins noted. “All that is is really a deterrent to let the bad guy know that somebody may be watching them. “When you guys start doing the things in your community that we are going to set up for you to do, and they get word that you are helping us...I will say the Community Watch assisted us, if you assisted us in solving a crime, because then it will become contagious,” Collins said. Mike Alexander, who represented Brierwood Subdivision along with at least 14 other concerned neighbors, has lived in the area the past 12 years. Alexander spoke out from the audience that since the subdivision was near the city sports complex, youth would come into their area. “When they are not playing, kids will come through the neighborhood,” Alexander pointed out. “They get to where they can’t do that anymore. They are afraid to. “We lived in the country before we moved up here,” Alexander continued. “...I love my home and I love being up here, but we’ve had enough. “Whatever you need us to do, I think our bunch will pitch in there and do it,” he added. Collins said the Community Watch program needed to be well underway by the spring. “The signs, guys, are a great deterrent, believe it or not, they are,” Collins said. “We’re going to try to get as many of those as we can in the necessary areas, especially people who are involved in this will have signs.” Collins said the community watch program will be of no cost to participants financially but will require time and effort, in order for it to be successful program. “If we do it right, that time span will be well worth it,” said Collins, “because we can handle business, if we know where we need to be.” Alexander noted the neighborhood has been filled with problems continuously, and that something needed to be done. “It has gotten to where it’s continuous everywhere you turn around there now,” Alexander pointed out. “These guys (police department) do a great job. When we call them, they come,” he noted. “It’s getting worse over there...There are just a lot of kids that come up through there. “The guys are doing all they can do up through here. The mayor is doing all they can do,” Alexander noted. “It’s just continuing to get worse and worse over there.” “What we’re seeing more of now are mental health problems along with the drug problem,” stressed Mayor Ken Sunseri. “And it’s getting worse, and I don’t see any relief to it.” The mayor stressed a community watch program was a crucial asset to assist the community by giving law enforcement additional information on things that may be going on in their area. “The Community Watch program will establish an additional set of eyes for our police department, and to give them data that they need in order to check out areas throughout our community,” Sunseri pointed out. Mayor Sunseri hopes the community will come together in this project. “Again, it’s going to take a few months to get it worked out and get other participants involved in it,” he added. Sunseri stressed the Community Watch is not just open to residential neighborhoods but businesses as well. “We have a great place to live here,” said Collins. “We have a great school, and we have great people, and we want to maintain that. “We want them to come here and work and have good families and do things,” Collins continued. “But we’re tired of the garbage and the dope and we’re working as diligently as possible to head that off, I promise you.” A resident from the audience thanked the police on behalf of the homeowners for their interest in starting a Community Watch program. “Sooner or later, if this does what I think it’s going to do, we’ll fill this room up,” Collins pointed out.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.