Lt. Bob Hancock championed the cause as he spoke at the most recent meeting of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club, saying it was a valuable way for citizens to help prevent crime from occurring where they live.
“This year has been terrible for neighborhood watches,” Hancock said.
Though the BCSO has had support in place for anyone who wants to start one, he said there have been no organized neighborhood watch groups in place in the county this year. Though one was in the process of being organized, Hancock said there needs to be more than that.
One reason he said he thought the number of neighborhood watch groups has been so low was because of the attention such groups nationwide received when a Florida neighborhood watch coordinator named George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting-related death of teenager Trayvon Martin earlier this year.
Hancock said he wanted to assure Bradley County residents that neighborhood watch groups were not expected to take the law into their own hands, but to simply report potentially criminal activity.
“You will be our eyes and ears. You will let us know what’s going on,” he said. “We don’t want you to be put in danger. We will take care of you if we get the call.”
Another reason people hesitate to join neighborhood watch groups, he said, is simply because of time. Some believe they need to be able to sit around their houses all day observing, but anyone can report anything they see during the times that they are home.
Though there have been no formal neighborhood watch groups, Hancock said he had seen multiple examples of neighbors being observant and successfully preventing local crimes.
One example took place in the Ridgewood Subdivision. Two people in an unfamiliar pickup truck were driving around the neighborhood, and a resident reported it to the Sherriff’s Office because they suspected they might be looking for a house to burglarize.
The driver of the vehicle ended up having a warrant out for his arrest and “a rap sheet as long as your arm,” Hancock said.
He said they ultimately determined that the two were looking for their next robbery victims, and it was a concerned neighbor who stopped the crime from happening in the first place.
Robberies and other crimes have seen an increase Bradley County as drug abuse in the area has also increased, Hancock cautioned.
“Ninety-five percent of crime is drug-related,” he said.
He said that was because those who use drugs have been known to steal and commit other crimes in the name of getting money for drugs.
People who abuse drugs can also be dangerous because of impaired judgment and a desperation to continue their habits, he added.
“Once you’re on meth, you’re not yourself,” Hancock said.
He cautioned people to “be very, very careful” and report any criminal activity they see as well as to take precautions like insisting on knowing if any contractors hired to do renovations or repairs in their homes have passed criminal background checks.
In addition to possibly helping deter crime, Hancock said a neighborhood watch program could be helpful in case of emergencies like natural disasters.
Back in 2011, a local neighborhood watch group tried to form, but only three people attended the first meeting. That neighborhood was later hit hard by a tornado on April 27 of that same year, and Hancock said those responding to help were left scrambling to make sure everyone had been rescued from the debris. A neighborhood watch group might have helped in that kind of situation by letting emergency responders know if, for example, a homeowner had been out of town during that time.
Anyone who wants to start a neighborhood watch group can gauge interest among neighbors and contact Hancock. The BCSO will help determine factors like how many houses can be included in a neighborhood watch area and set up a time for an organizational meeting with the office. During that first meeting, residents will be taught skills like how to fortify their homes against would-be intruders and how to recognize criminal activity and report it.
After an initial meeting, neighbors can schedule regular meetings among themselves if they choose.
Hancock was quick to stress that the Sheriff’s Office has multiple deputies patrolling at any given time but that they could not be everywhere at once.
The BCSO’s jurisdiction covers more than 300 square miles that are divided into four different zones, and at least two people patrol each zone at a time, he said. Still, neighbors paying attention means even less chance for criminals to get away with what they have done.
“What we need is you,” Hancock said. “It’s important that we have those alliances.”
Anyone interested in starting a neighborhood watch program can email email@example.com or call 728-7321. Hancock said email was preferable for record-keeping purposes.
Also at the Bradley Sunrise Rotary meeting, club president Andy Anderson gave members an update on the results of recent fundraising efforts that have brought both University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and former game show host Bob Eubanks to Cleveland for events.
Anderson said the group raised about $18,000 before expenses at the event with Jones at Bradley Central High School, and the club raised about $92,000 before expenses at its annual gala, where Eubanks was the guest speaker.
After covering costs for things like catering, he said he believed the club would have at least $80,000 to give away starting this fall. Each year, the club holds fundraisers so they can raise money to donate to various charitable organizations in the community. This year’s list of recipients has not been completely finalized.