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Modern 'watchmen' keep communities safe, friendly Communities grow closer, safer with 'watchmen' help

Forest Grove groups provide eyes and ears where cops can't always patrol


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Community Services Officer Teresa Kohl asks Nji Ngado (second from left) to help with games during the upcoming National Night Out celebration at Karens Korner. Inge, Kohl said, is the self-appointed guardian of the apartment complexs children, walking them to and from the bus stop and shooing them away from dangerous places.There are 22,000 people in Forest Grove, but fewer than 30 police officers to keep an eye on them. That’s where Neighborhood Watch (NW) programs come in, providing eyes and ears where police can’t always patrol.

“We’ve been beating the drum to let people know how positive Neighborhood Watch is,” said Community Service Officer Teresa Kohl, who is trying to recruit more NW participants.

The idea for Neighborhood Watch goes back to colonial times, when local residents known as “watchmen” patrolled neighborhood streets at night. Today, NW refers to any organized group of citizens who work together to prevent crime. In Forest Grove, this includes roughly 600 people spread across 15 neighborhoods.

While the classic NW method of walking along sidewalks at night with flashlights is still used in Forest Grove, many groups have adapted techniques specific to their neighborhoods.

Karen’s Korner Apartments

“We call it ‘Operation Porchlight,” said Judith Potter, community manager and leader of the NW group for the Karen’s Korner apartments on Pacific Avenue at the east end of Forest Grove.

“If we don’t recognize someone at odd hours, a resident will turn on their back porch light and contact me. We’ll then call the police or put on our orange reflective vests and take a look around.”

Potter moved to Karen’s Korner last September after working as a child-support enforcement officer in San Antonio, Texas. Located between the railroad tracks and Pacific Avenue, the apartment complex is a convenient spot for trespassers.

“Everybody was interested in looking out for their own safety,” Potter recalled. So when residents learned about Neighborhood Watch, “it just exploded.”

“My phone lit up,” recounted Potter, “and the police were able to make several arrests.”

“Now the calls have diminished because the word is out that Karen’s Korner is a proactive community,” Potter said. “We’re worker bees when it comes to preventing crime.”

They’re also a closer community, she said. “Our NW meetings and potlucks are growing bigger and bigger.”

Pacific Crossing

While Karen’s Korner uses porch lights in an apartment block setting, Mike Bernhardt’s suburban neighborhood uses vehicles. “Some of our people will look around the neighborhood when they’re driving home at night,” said Bernhardt, who leads the NW for the Pacific Crossing neighborhood with his wife, April. “They keep an eye out, maybe shine a light in a dark meadow. Some people will time their walks or jogs early in the morning or late at night to observe when others can’t.”

“Neighborhood Watch is not about confronting people,” said Bernhardt, who holds regular meetings with neighbors in a clubhouse on Goff Road. “It’s about observing and reporting to the police department.

“Say you’re walking down the street and you see an unexpected parked car,” Bernhardt said. “Don’t walk to the car. Walk across the street and observe it. Get the make and license plate. If you see someone left their garage door open at night, give the homeowner a call and a reminder.”

The vigilance of Bernhardt’s neighbors has led to several arrests for trespassing, he said. “I can send an email blast to the 130 homes on my list about suspicious teenagers walking around the clubhouse and I’ll get 15 to 40 responses saying ‘Hey, thanks for letting me know. We’re going out on a walk so we’ll take a look.’”

In addition, “when people go on vacation, they let other neighbors know to keep an eye out, or to watch their kids when they go to school. It’s very gratifying to see citizens jump on incidents so quickly.”

22nd Avenue

Ivy Akui has been involved in NW in Forest Grove since 2005. While most NW groups use patrols and emails, Akui prefers parties and envelopes.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - (Left to right) Carol Baker, Paul Baker, Judith Potter, Teresa Kohl and Elisa Callaghan patrol the parking lot at Karens Korner Apartments, where Potter leads a Neighborhood Watch group. The bare spot in the fence to their right shows where frequent trespassers climb over and scrape away the protective slats.“I walk door-to-door, introducing myself and inviting my neighbors to an annual potluck block party with canopies and water misters,” Akui explained.

The parties have drawn as many as 30 households. “I hear people say, ‘Oh, you’re my next door neighbor? Pleased to meet you!’ Everyone talks and shares stories. It brings the neighborhood together.”

At the last block party she passed out a “speak out without being noticed” flyer with an envelope attached. “Neighbors wrote down their concerns and put it in the envelope. Nobody knew what they said except the police who took the envelope, but it was very effective because it was all confidential.”

When she’s not working as a financial-service representative at Bank of the West, teaching life skills to the disabled at the Albertina Kerr Center or running Accurate Screen Printing, a small business that prints T-shirts, Akui serves as head coordinator for her community’s safety concerns, calling authorities when people raise concerns. “I’m the middle man who gets the answers.”

Akui recently moved to 15th Avenue, where she plans to continue her NW efforts.

The Homestead

While burglaries, assaults or graffiti are prominent concerns in other parts of Forest Grove, NW members at The Homestead call each other about a car breaking the 15 mile-per-hour speed limit, a stolen lawn ornament or a prowling raccoon.

The Homestead is a 166-house senior community near Neil Armstrong Middle School where Marcy MacDonald, 80, leads a NW group with her friend, Joe Overman.

“Everyone is 65 and over here,” said MacDonald. “We don’t do foot patrols but we do look out for each other so that we can all live in a safe community.”

The 250-person neighborhood is divided into 19 districts, each with its own NW captains. While some residents call in their concerns, many simply walk across the street. “Word travels pretty quickly because everyone here is willing to be watchful for their neighbors,” explained MacDonald. “My responsibilities involve receiving messages and looking into the situation.”

MacDonald takes pride in the safety of her neighborhood: “Someone called to do a presentation for a security system and we turned them down because we feel we don’t need that.”

Volunteers needed

While many NW groups still rely on phone calls and emails, FGPD hopes to introduce social media to the NW scene with a new networking website called nextdoor.com.

“It’s similar to Facebook but it’s all about community,” said Kohl. “It’s organized into neighborhoods where you can post something like a garage sale or a lost pet or a strange car. The police can also post crime alerts to notify specific neighborhoods instead of sending out a general press release.”

“It sounds like a great idea,” said Judith Potter. “I can’t wait to start it out.”

Meanwhile, the NW approach is already spreading. In the past month or so the number of active groups has grown from eight to 15.

And there are three other neighborhoods where Kohl works with “leads,” people who are willing to connect with the police department about neighborhood needs and concerns, but who don’t want to bother with organized meetings.

Including its seven leads — four of whom double as NW captains — the city has a total of 18 liaisons between police and neighborhoods.

But Forest Grove is divided into 33 separate zones, some of which contain multiple NW groups.

And that means at least 15 neighborhoods still need watchers.



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