Residents in the area surrounding Crown Hill Elementary this month told the county commissioners they’re banding together to thwart crime and promote camaraderie.
In a story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun, I interviewed many of the neighbors, who say they’re scared for their personal safety, and about what goes on in their neighborhood.
They’re planning block watch groups, block parties, and anything that ultimately helps them to get to know one another — so they know who’s who and can call police when something appears out of the ordinary.
Have you ever pondered a block watch program in your neighborhood?
(Note: pictured is patrol officer and former Bremerton Police community resource officer Karen Pierson, who’s helped many residents in the city of Bremerton start their own block watch groups.)
I actually did a story in March 2006 about problems inside Bremerton’s city limits that led to residents to form block watch groups. I’ve pasted it below. Feel free to leave a comment behind of your own experiences with block watch.
BREMERTON — With boarded-up windows, graffiti tags and garbage-strewn lawns, Bremerton’s perpetual drug houses are, by and large, easy to spot.
As quickly as one is condemned or busted by the cops, another springs up amid the rolling hills of the city’s neighborhoods.
“One closes down,” said Bremerton resident Bobbi Campbell, “and another pops back up.”
The houses are often occupied by dealers and users of various drugs, such as methamphetamine, and can expose nearby residents to all kinds of criminal activity.
Campbell knows them well. Particularly, a house right down the street from her Ninth Street and Warren Avenue residence, which, as she says, “popped up.”
Fortunately, she knew what it would take to close it down: a neighborhood watch group.
City citizens are fighting the stigma of having the state’s highest per capita violent crime rate — about 11 incidents of robbery, rape, assault and murder per thousand residents in 2004. They are discovering ways to force out the perpetrators, many of whom pass through the city’s drug houses.
For Campbell and her Neighbors, it was a matter of paying attention and being proactive.
In February 2005, she began to notice signs of drug activity at the nearby house: Lots of people coming and going. Barefoot children who seemed to roam free. Erratic driving by those who lived there.
The crimes began escalating in severity, she said. Windshields were broken. Fights were heard. Burglaries started happening.
But Campbell and her block weren’t content to let their neighborhood deteriorate. They called Bremerton police and organized a neighborhood watch program in August. The police, who encourage block watch groups but don’t require them when a known drug house surfaces, helped put together community meetings.
Together, Neighbors tracked the home’s activity, wrote down license plates and called 911 when they saw any sign of suspicious behavior.
It paid off: In only two months the home’s tenants moved out. They had apparently been arrested or simply left because of increased neighborhood scrutiny.
It has given Campbell and others newfound courage that they can help weed out Bremerton’s criminal element — especially the violent aspect.
“I think people need to start taking back neighborhoods,” she said.
Bremerton Detective Robbie Davis said block watches can extend the reach of the police.
“It makes bad guys aware that people are watching and they’re not afraid of them,” he said.
“If you go to a neighborhood looking to commit crime and everybody’s watching you, you’re going to go somewhere else to do your dirty business,”
Block watch groups, however, can be hard to organize and difficult to keep together. Tanya Stansberry, a single mother of four living in Westpark, is attempting to start her own currently. After witnessing arrests and drug activity, she’s reluctant to even let her children play outside their home.
She’s brought the block watch idea to her Neighbors, but senses that people don’t want to spy on each other.
“They feel like they’d be tattling,” Stansberry said. “But I think it’s about being aware.”
Still, persistence pays off, according to Judy McDonald, a resident of Lewis Street in East Bremerton.
When McDonald banded a group of local residents together to watch one house of nefarious individuals, the tenants packed up under the scrutiny.
McDonald recalls one of the tenants sighing in disgust before she left.
“I’m tired of living in a fishbowl,” McDonald reported her as saying.