Crime prevention from the eyes of the people who care the most about protecting their neighborhood, the neighbors
By Madeline Stone
Seven years ago Mike Septh’s wife, Cindy, was in the basement of their three-story house doing laundry. It was later in the evening and the sun had already gone down. She heard a rustle outside and the motion sensor lights turned on. Startled, but regardless she assumed that it was just a deer. Living up on a hill near a nature park this wasn’t that odd of an occurrence. A few days later she and her husband talked to a neighbor who informed them that they had seen a man lurking outside in their fenceless backyard.
The Churchill Neighborhood has experienced 68 reported burglaries in 2011 up from 50 reported burglaries in 2010, according to the Eugene Police Department Annual Report for 2011.
Other suspicious behaviors have occurred in their neighborhood that have resulted in forced entry into someone’s home and stolen property. Mike Septh along with another neighbor decided to form a neighborhood watch to better protect their homes.
After living in Eugene for seven years, Septh reflects, “The vulnerability of this town that I see, is that everybody is so friendly and unsuspicious because the town up until lately has been for the most part really caring people. This is the town where a lot of the hippies of the late 60s of Woodstock got lost and ended up at…Nobody suspects that there is going to be all this horrible stuff going on because it hasn’t happened as much in the past as now.”
The Neighborhood Watch Captains of the Churchill Neighborhood all formed watch groups to protect their homes, families, and neighbors. They feel that preventing crime, even if it is just “petty theft” in their neighborhoods is important. They are not paid to keep up neighborhood contact lists and share warnings. They do it because they care.
Many neighborhood watch groups perform the same role as they do here in the Churchill Area Neighborhood in Eugene. Hawkins Heights Neighborhood Watch Capitan, Greg Harrowe, pays close attention to his email ready to share important alerts with his neighbors if he receives warnings from the police department.
Harrowe and Septh along with fellow Neighborhood Watch Captain Darrell Davis provide a vital resource for their neighbors, information. All three of these Churchill Neighborhood Watch leaders work to encourage their neighbors to serve as additional eyes and ears for the Eugene Police Department reporting any suspicious behavior.
Crime Prevention Specialist, Todd Schneider, who works specifically with the Churchill Area Neighborhood, says “it is useful for us if you see something suspicious to at the very least write down the license plate number.”
The neighborhood watch organizations have the ability to report suspicious behavior that can prevent crimes from occurring or catch burglars in the act just by calling the non-emergency phone number.
Schneider explains that it is much more difficult for the police to catch burglars once the crime has been committed and the scene fled. Tips from neighbors or onlookers increase the chances of finding the thief and stopping that person or group of people from continuing to break into homes and or cars and taking personal property.
“The neighborhood watch program does not condone vigilante actions. No one is asked to take personal risks,” as stated in the Lane County Neighborhood Watch pamphlet from the Lane County Sheriff’s Office.
Incidents like what happened in Florida with the Neighborhood Watch Shooting reflect poorly on other neighborhood watch organizations across the country that do not believe in citizen vigilantism.
“We are not law enforcers and we don’t want to be law enforcers. We just want to protect ourselves,” Harrowe clarifies.
The neighborhood watch groups serve as a tool for neighbors to stay in touch with each other in case suspicious persons enter their neighborhood or even just to build friendships.
In Davis’ neighborhood the members of the Neighborhood Watch have gotten to know each other because of the community spirit of the watch group. Davis explains that because the neighborhood has private roads they are able to close the roads whenever they choose. This allows them to hold neighborhood block party barbeques in the summer time.
Even though the Neighborhood Watch has fostered community, Davis explains that only 12 out of the 108 homes in his neighborhood participate in the watch group. In Septh’s neighborhood only 15 homes out of the 45 participate, and Harrowe says only seven participate in his area.
All three Neighborhood Watch Captains complain of the difficulty of getting neighbors to join the effort.
Septh explains that, “everybody thinks ‘Oh not in my neighborhood. I live in a safe neighborhood.’”
This poses a challenge to Neighborhood Watch Captains who are trying to recruit their neighbors to join the watch. In order to join all they need to do is give their contact information to the Captain, agree to report suspicious behaviors to their neighbors and the police department, and protect their home.
“Its really frustrating because I have seen people that didn’t give me their phone number leave their garage door open all night or they leave their car windows open,” Septh patiently explains.
By holding a neighborhood watch or asking a neighbor to watch your house while you are gone for an extended period of time, “then there is a lot less crime, and when there is less crime they go somewhere else or give up,” according to Septh.
Harrowe explains that his neighbors are hesitant to join or don’t join because they don’t want their emails bombarded with information that may not always pertain to their lives. People don’t like giving out their personal information even if it’s just to their neighbors.
Septh explains that the information he collects is strictly for the purpose of the Neighborhood Watch. “I have never take advantage of knowing their phone number for any reason other then to help save a situation if push come to shove.”
The outlook in Harrowe’s neighborhood is that, “When it happens to you, you take preventative measure.” This outlook frustrates the Neighborhood Watch Captains who are doing their best to prevent crime where they live through awareness, observation and communication.
Davis passionately shares that, “As president of the home owners association my inside goal is to have the whole entire HOA posted. If neighborhood watch is really put in place it will be a deterrent.”
Property Crimes on the Rise
Eight Tips to keep your home and neighborhood safe
Burglary, forced entry into someone else’s property, has increased by 36% from 2010 to 2011 in the Churchill Area Neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon. Writing off property crime as petty theft, many Churchill Neighbors fail to utilize preventative measures to protect their property. The Eugene Police Department is building up their crime prevention program encouraging all residents to protect their property. The police department has a team of crime prevention specialists that can help you with any crime prevention needs or questions.
- Always keep your garage door closed and your exterior doors locked. “Statistics show that in over one-half of household burglaries, there was no forced entry involved,” according to Lane County Sheriff’s Department.
- Install motion sensor lights on your home. Burglars won’t know if a person switched on the light or if they set it off. Also they will be deterred because the light blows their cover.
- Lock up any property that will be siting outside your house.
- Lock any backyard sheds, these are easy targets.
- Always close your car windows and lock your car.
- If you are parking your car on the street for extended period of time get a club to attach to your steering wheel. This can deter a thief from attempting to steel your car because they won’t be able to turn the steering wheel.
- Do not leave valuables in your car. Jackets or blankets could look like they are hiding something and that may be enough for a theft to smash your window.
- Don’t leave extra keys under your doormat or potted plants. Leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor.
Todd Schneider Crime Prevention Specialist
Greg Harrowe Neighborhood Watch Captain
Darrell Davis Home Owners Association President and Neighborhood Watch Captain
Mike Septh Neighborhood Watch Captain