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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Neighborhood Watch Program Reignited

Neighborhood Watch Program Reignited:
Citizens become extensions of Fairfield police force
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/2)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – More than two dozen select citizens throughout Fairfield have just completed a five-week training session to become Neighborhood Watch leaders, helping Fairfield’s finest do their jobs even better and assist with apprehending criminals. Though the Watch program is not a new one, the latest iteration features a strong two-way line of communication between these citizens and the police department that did not previously exist.

In a special press briefing Monday morning at Fairfield police headquarters, 100 Reef Road, Lt. Jim Perez noted that 28 Fairfielders had just finished the program, the goal of which is give them a “police mind”, train them to observe possible crime and learn how to report criminal activity to get the proper response from police. The training included terrorism awareness, observation skills, reporting and defining suspicious behavior.

“We want to reinvigorate their sixth sense,” said Perez, “because often times society teaches us to deny our gift of fear.”

The program drew town residents from the beach area, Mill River, Greenfield Hill and Stratford. “Participants tell others and interest grows,” said Perez, who said that an additional round of classes is scheduled to be held in September.

In the past, back in the 80s when the program first started, citizens were trained and released. It was up to the block captains to keep things going. Now, these NETs (Neighborhood Emergency Teams) coordinate activities between their leaders and police with regard to issues and problems. The police are also doing more reach-out to the community, scheduling meetings to listen to complaints, putting response plans together and then addressing concerns. “The key is effective, open communication all the time,” said Perez.

During the briefing, Perez cited a fresh example of how the program is working. He read a letter from a community team leader that related how a driver had run down and driven away from a stop sign and how his group collected evidence at the scene which enabled police to track down the perpetrator and arrest him. The incident occurred this past Saturday, around midnight, at the corner of Melville Drive and Greenfield Drive. Citizen response helped lead to the apprehension of Timothy Andrews, 53, of 21 Garden Drive, on a charge of evading responsibility and failure to drive right.

“Without the Neighborhood Watch program, officers would have ultimately seen the stop sign but wouldn’t have made a connection,” Perez said. “In this case, the neighbors protected the evidence and allowed police to do a better job of solving the case.”

Perez added, “The neighbors were alert, took their responsibility seriously, and catalogued and photographed evidence. Police can’t be there all the time. Neighbors can help serve as our eyes and ears in the community.” 

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