Cindy Andresen, Block Watch Captain, now living in Delta, BC, special to the Block Watch Beat
Our motto was “Changing How We Neighbour to Deter Crime & Build Community.”
Sounds easy, right?
Moving to a Safe Place
Nestled just outside of Los Angeles, County, in the San Fernando Valley is a great little city called Encino where many call home. You might even recognize it as the setting of the popular 80’s movie, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Encino was heralded as “a great place to raise a family,” “so close to the city & the ocean,” “great schools,” “safe,” and so on. So, we decided to investigate further. Several months later, we settled in our new home, and were quite happy. What’s not to love? It’s 80°F and sunny all the time!
We learned that there was a small Facebook page created for just the few streets surrounding us – approximately 40 households. We thought, cool, we can really be connected. And we were. Everyone looked out for each other, posted positive notes, comments to others, garage sales, suspicious activity, social gatherings. It felt like a tight little community.
An Easy Target
As years passed, and times got tough for some, we saw an uptick in petty crime: car break- ins, stolen mail, small personal items taken from properties. The word got out quickly that Encino was an easy target.
We then began seeing signs of next level activity, homelessness, serious crimes, dangerous confrontations. More frequently, helicopters would shine searchlights in backyards looking for suspects. More and more cars with no license plates would drive by homes in the early hours of the morning to stop and check doors, or scale walls into backyards. Really scary actually.
THE BLOCK WATCH STRATEGY
The Facebook community got together and decided to create more of an official Block Watch. We engaged with our local police and crafted a plan to:
- create awareness,
- find support with the authorities,
- let criminals know that they were being watched by the community,
- report all suspicious activity to the police.
We knew that the police alone could not take this on. It would take the active participation of the community.
Neighbourhoods were identified by area. Along with Block Watch Captains, and Co-Captains, each area had a designated SLO (Senior Lead Officer). This SLO was an active participant on the Facebook pages as a direct set of eyes as to what the residents and Block Watch Captains were posting. They would call out any activity that looked suspicious or out of the ordinary. Anything from a parked car, a solicitor and door knocking raised concerns about stolen packages, break-ins, and potential casings. Many of the neighbours caught all the activity on their security cameras. Videos were uploaded and shared daily. Community communication resulted in catching suspects early on, sending a message that THIS community is connected and engaged. Thieves do not want to be caught, so they moved on to the next neighbourhood.
In a few months time, we built up our community with well over 5000 participants. We saw significant success in the blocks that were organized and trained to observe and report. We saw the value in having more eyes on the street, awareness of activity on the block, and immediate communication via group texting to share urgent messages. Blocks noticed a decrease in crime and faster response times when they worked together.
As we worked hard connecting people through the Block Watch program, Encino returned to being a very desirable community to live in. We hosted annual block parties and since everyone looked forward to meeting friends, old and new, it got better each year. We may have set up Block Watch as a response to crime, but communication and gatherings are what kept us connected.
The sense of connection between individuals, families, and neighbourhoods is at the heart of this vision of a “connected” community.
Looking back, there was more than just a select few people on a cute neighbourhood Facebook page who really cared about the city we called home. There was all of the San Fernando Valley and beyond. We listened to our community’s concerns and took action to address our challenges. By learning from others’ experiences and observations, we lowered overall crime and kept Encino a great place to live, work and raise a family – one person at a time.
I am confident in saying that together, we built a city where everyone was aware, safe and engaged.