(Appeared on Fairfield.Patch.com 10/10/10)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – A bright sunny fall afternoon provided a sharp contrast to the serious safety matters discussed by a panel of police department and town officials with two dozen Beach Area citizens Sunday October 10 at a gathering at Penfield Beach’s Jacky Durrell Pavilion.
Coordinated by Lalley Boulevard resident Linda Cote Crowley, the inaugural briefing focused on Fairfield’s Neighborhood Watch Program and featured presentations by Police Chief Gary McNamara, Lt. James Perez, Watch volunteer Donald Peterson and Probate Judge Dan Caruso. The event also offered brunch, a raffle to help offset production costs of a related newsletter and live music by The Rents.
McNamara opened the session and stressed the importance of community involvement and a strong neighborhood/police department relationship in helping prevent crime. “It used to be that we’d find a very engaged local person, give them materials to distribute, put up a sign and place the responsibility on that person. But we realized this needs to be an ongoing endeavor with purposeful approaches, frequent meetings with all residents and even in-home visits.”
Besides fostering more interaction, Perez, the most vocal member of the panel, said it has been key to teach people to become trained observers, what to look for and how to react. The Watch program also teaches how to “target harden” your home (hiding valuables, keeping hedges trimmed low, etc.) and how to recognize what’s “normal and not normal.”
Home burglaries, which numbered 218 in Fairfield in 2009, a five-year high, and property crime, which hit a three-year high of 1,110 incidents the same year, have been leading challenges for the town. Perez says the apprehension rate could be higher if people reported unusual noises and suspicious activities.
“The community is its own gatekeeper, the police support,” the officer said. “The neighborhood can help us do our job more effectively. I don’t know why people don’t want to call us. We’re friendly guys! People feel they’re bothering us. You’re not.”
Enhancing communications is the new Reverse 9-1-1 system, which gives the police the ability to get a blanket alert out quickly and simultaneously to residents. This was employed recently when armed fugitives were loose in the Beach Area and an early a.m. alert was issued. McNamara said the inconvenience of the middle-of-the-night call and the safety of citizens are carefully weighed in these instances.
Peterson’s talk was centered on the new Fairfield Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT). The retired General Electric executive said that its prime function is to help in manmade and natural disasters by making shelters available, evacuation coordination with town managers and helping residents with emergency planning. The Team will also help with sheltering pets.
Caruso reminded the gathering that besides crime prevention, we need to be cognizant of neighbors that may need special attention, particularly those with a medical condition like autism or Alzheimer’s.
Do residents feel safe? Lorrie de Hahn, a Carlynn Drive resident since 1968, says she does. “We’re a tight neighborhood. We know one another and people check on each other. Neighborhood Watch is an excellent idea that helps contribute to safety.”
To learn more about Neighborhood Watch, contact Lt. James Perez at 203-254-4800.