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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.” 

Annual Tag Sale Gives Hope to Homeless and Hungry

Annual Tag Sale Gives Hope to Homeless and Hungry
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The work of hundreds of volunteers, donations from thousands of local residents and uncountable man hours all resulted in the successful launch Saturday morning of Operation Hope’s Annual Tag Sale, held in and around First Congregational Church, 148 Beach Road.

Operation Hope’s Executive Director Carla Miklos estimated that the two-day sale (Sunday hours are 12 to 4) is the organization’s 18th annual. “In the old days, we would pull in around $30,000 or $40,000,” she said. “In recent years, the take has been smaller. People do more consigning and eBay these days. Still, we have a lot of generous donations. There are literally thousands of items, including furniture, sporting goods, artwork, frames, mirrors, toys, electronics, housewares, linens, holiday items, jewelry and ‘finer things’ like collectibles.”

Miklos added that, for the last three years, they have been offering hi-end raffle baskets, pulled together from businesses and people in the community. In addition, the Fairfield Rotary Club is on hand selling donuts and coffee in the morning, and hamburgers and hot dogs in the afternoon, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Operation Hope. Sherwood Farm in Easton and Billy’s Bakery have contributed items for sale as well.

The sale funds general operations of Operation Hope’s center at 636 Old Post Road and 50 Nichols Street. The shelter houses 18 men, six women and three families at any given time, according to Miklos. The organization’s food pantry serves 475 unique households. Forty-six units of affordable housing is also scattered throughout Fairfield and Bridgeport. In addition, a community kitchen serves lunch and dinner to anyone that is hungry and a clinical team supports clients’ medical and basic needs.

“It’s hard to put into words how generous the community is,” said Miklos. “The community is a combination of hundreds of volunteers that help with set up, the merchandise donated by people all week, volunteers that work the sale and people that come out to shop for a good cause.”

Among the 50 to 60 volunteers on hand Saturday was former First Selectman Ken Flatto. “When you love your town, you have to keep volunteering,” he said. “I’m pleased to help organizations like Operation Hope. Last week, I was doing a stint at Pequot Library (annual summer book sale). It’s the least I can do.”

Another volunteer, 19-year-old Serena Mistry, a student at the University of Connecticut, said she wanted to help out during the summer before starting back to college and that her efforts would serve as good work experience while helping a great cause.

As to attendees, Sarah Booth, from Southport, who was pacing around a table, said, “I’m looking for furniture to furnish an apartment. I’m seeing many interesting items here. There’s quite a range of quality, styles and great values.”

Tanya Kujan, at checkout, said, “We came down today to see what great stuff we could find. We also donated many items. We’re rotating our stuff. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

Operation Hope’s Annual Tag Sale is being held Saturday through 4 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., inside and around First Congregational Church, 148 Beach Road, at the corner of Old Post Road. Parking is available at the intersecting streets as well as in the parking lot sharing by the church and Gaelic-American Club.