By Laura Byko
Point Park News Service 

Block watch formation outlined in South Side

 

Some were there for to make their community safer.

Some were there to learn about installing security cameras.

Some were just there to see who their neighbors are.

But each of the approximately 35 people who came to Sept. 3's Public Safety meeting at the Brashear Center in South Side walked away with the knowledge of how to create a block watch on his or her own street.

After Cathy Mitchell, past-president of the South Side Community Council, welcomed everyone, the attendees were invited to introduce themselves and explain why they were there.

Issues from trash disposal to litter to noisy students were referenced, and a pattern in the responses emerged: Turning South Side (and the smaller pockets within it) into a community rather than a party destination, as well as combating a recent spate of car break-ins and violent crimes.


Officer Christine Luffey, the Zone 3 Community Resource Officer, spoke next, opening by saying she understands the feeling of knowing your community is changing. A Beechview resident, Officer Luffey picks up trash on her street every night when she walks her dog.

"This is your community, and you have to fight for it," she said. "I fight for all of Zone 3 every day, and then I go home and I fight for Beechview."

Officer Luffey emphasized block watches' roles are to report, not confront, those they encounter, stressing that "you are not vigilantes."

But reporting issues through a block watch can make a real difference, she said, citing the success of the Carrick Block Watch. Thanks to that group's efforts, the police were able to bring in narcotics detectives, execute search warrants and make arrests.

The first step to start a block watch, said Officer Luffey, is to care about the community. Second, residents should talk to their neighbors and make it clear a block watch "isn't a huge time commitment." After the neighbors are organized, they should meet as a group with their zone's officer (in South Side's case, Officer Luffey) and discuss the specifics of how block watches work.


Donna Williams, Secretary of Zone 3's Public Safety council, then spoke about how blocks function across the zone. The captains of the block watches meet with the Public Safety Council on the third Monday of the month at the police station in Allentown, she said.

At the zone meetings, the captains receive information on the whole zone they are then able to take back to their smaller organizations, and they are able to meet likeminded people from other neighborhoods. These meetings also give block watches an opportunity to make their concerns heard.

"You are not just a speck," Ms. Williams said. "You are important because you're in our zone."

Citywide public safety meetings, more expansive than the zone meetings, occur biannually, Ms. Williams said. The next one is scheduled for October 21, and attendees will receive information on crime trends across the city.

Robert Cavalier, who leads the 17th Street Block Watch, then gave residents advice about dealing with noisy or inconsiderate college students and young professionals: Treat them like human beings first, and nuisances second.

He also recommended forming relationships with the local universities, citing the 17th Street Block Watch's success with Duquesne University. The block watch communicates directly with someone from the university if the problem recurs, a solution Mr. Cavalier said is consistently effective.

Additionally, he supplied specific advice on starting and maintaining a useful block watch both in person and over the internet. People starting a block watch should decide on its parameters, he said. And they should organize through fliers and email distribution lists with which the watch can inform its residents about developments on its street.

He also encouraged compassion toward neighbors others might be inclined to judge: "Don't assume that weeds mean someone is lazy or doesn't care. Maybe they're not physically able to get to it and they need your help," he said.

He also said working with a police officer can help residents determine the most useful area in which to install a security camera. He also recommended logging on to an internet database where the cameras are located, and sharing that information with the police.

The meetings to create block watches occur about biannually, but Ms. Style said attendance for Thursday's meeting was higher than usual due to the recent spate of car break-ins in South Side.

She hoped residents would return to their neighborhoods with a clear course of action to create a block watch.

"I want people to say, 'I need to be part of our own solution,'" she said.

Ms. Mitchell said that because so many of South Side's residents are recent transplants, a lot of people are only now realizing there is a sense of community there that has existed long before they moved in.

Starting a block watch, said Ms. Style, is an excellent way to foster that sense of community.

 

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