The catch phrase Thursday night was delivered — with moxie — by a silver-haired lady in the front row of a local nursing home’s dining room, when Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen thrust a microphone in her face and asked what people should do when they see suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.
“Call 911!” she exclaimed.
In December, her home was burglarized. But when thieves returned two weeks ago, they were thwarted by a chain on the door and a burglar alarm. Still, she’s afraid and asked to remain anonymous, because she fears her home again will be targeted.
As a 23 year-resident of East Columbus’ East Emerald Estates neighborhood, she felt safe leaving her doors unlocked and her window blinds open. But she doesn’t now.
“I feel like I’m in prison now,” she said Thursday, as she stood in the lobby of Aurora Health and Rehab, following a community outreach and crime safety meeting.
Around 40 people gathered in the nursing home’s dining room to listen to McQueen reassure residents and arm them with safety tips. Earlier in the evening, he attended a meeting in Columbus’ Southside area to do the same thing.
After a series of break-ins, burglaries and other crimes in the area, Aurora staff members decided to resurrect a long-dormant neighborhood watch program.
The nursing home is sequestered in a cul-de-sac at the end of Emerald Drive, deep within what had previously been a quiet neighborhood, populated mostly by elderly residents.
Administrator David Seay drives through the neighborhood every morning on his way to work, where he spends his day caring for the 90 residents of Aurora.
“We’re trying to be a good neighbor,” Seay said. “We want to be part of the solution.”
The solution, many believe, is a grassroots movement spreading throughout the city and county — citizens banding together to be the eyes and ears for local law enforcement.
“(Criminals) rely on darkness, on complacency, on people not getting involved,” McQueen said. “You better get involved.”
The tips offered mainly reflected common sense, including advice to call 911 immediately whenever you see suspicious activity; avoid scams by checking references, before allowing people onto your property, for things like lawn care and home maintenance; post “No Trespassing” signs; calling the police department and asking for close patrol while on vacation so police will drive by to check on your home each day you are absent.
“There’s a different breed out there now,” McQueen said. “Ultimately, it starts at home. You probably think, ‘That’s not my job,’ but where do we start?”
Columbus Police Officer Rhonda Sanders took names and phone numbers of local residents Thursday night, establishing a “neighborhood tree” of contacts, who will be in charge of sweeping through the neighborhood each day, looking for anything out of place. Their methods go beyond posting a sign at the neighborhood entrance. At their core, new watch groups are about taking a proactive stance to combat a growing problem.
Block captains and round-the-clock monitors will report anything that seems out of place. Once the watch groups are established, the police department will train members to identify suspicious activity, in the hopes of stopping crime before it happens.
“I’m going to prime them to be nosy neighbors,” Sanders said. “The police can’t be there 24/7, but (residents) can.”
Seay said Aurora will host the neighborhood watch group meetings for East Emerald Estates.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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