One of the six group discussions (Parents and Families, school, protecting ourselves and each other from theft and crime, engaging other community organizers, engage health professionals, municipal resources)

Community Safety Forum, Part Two: Action Steps and What You Can Do

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Thursday December 19, 2013

Imagine you’re heading home from work or running an errand. Do you check your surroundings before getting out of the car or off the bus? Do you lock your car? Do you fumble for your keys to the house? Is it even locked? 

The rate of burglaries in South Burlington and across the state is on the rise, but that doesn’t mean citizens need to live in fear. Being an aware and proactive citizen is the best way to combat suspicious activities from occurring in your neighborhood.  What’s being done, and what can you do? Patrick Benner Sr., Neighborhood Watch Coordinator of more than 65  groups in the city, is one of several resources available to South Burlington citizens and has answers to those questions. 

“Be your best advocate and be less of a victim,” he advised at the second round of the community crime forums held Thursday, Dec. 13. 

The first forum, held at South Burlington High School Dec. 3, highlighted the correlation between crime and drugs in the community, and a panel consisting of Police Chief Trevor Whipple, Dr. William (Bill) Roberts, Pain Management/Narcotic Abuse Rehab in St. Albans; Bob Bick, Director of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services at the HowardCenter; and US Attorney Tristram Coffin were present to answer questions. That forum represented an information-gathering phase, and the second forum honed in on opportunities for action.

Benner, also a citizen volunteer in the SBPD Youth Service Division and SB school district crisis prevention intervention/safety volunteer, advocates what he calls the “three D’s”: Deny-Deter-Dial. Aside from locking house doors, windows, and cars at all times, Benner also suggests:

Installing or keeping an existing porch light on in the front and back of your home

• Removing air conditioners or fans from windows. Pushing them in is an easy way for intruders to enter.

Trimming hedges below window height 

Keeping valuables out of your car

Joining your neighborhood watch group

Benner explained that there are  a number of trained and active Neighborhood Watch groups; others have dissipated, but he is trying to reactivate them. Each group is assigned a captain and co-captain who meet occasionally with neighbors as needed and keep email/and or a phone tree.

Benner stressed that if residents see suspicious activity to not hesitate to call. The degree of severity--whether unknown or known--should not keep a witness fearful for his or her own safety. The call remains anonymous, and it could be especially important in the event it turns out to be a lead, he said. 

On the subject of keeping your car locked and empty, Community Justice Center Coordinator Lisa Bedinger added that they conduct a “Car Report Card” in which trained volunteers go out into the community and perform visual checks to see if there are cues that would make any car a target.

“We saw an entire sound system sitting in someone’s car,” Bedinger recalled. “We saw a rifle case on the front seat. I actually saw dollar bills scattered on someone’s front seat.”

Once the visual check is complete, the volunteers leave the Car Report Card sheet with the results on the car. Volunteers can not touch the car at all.

This is just one program of the SB Community Justice Center (CJC), a city and SBPD program designed to allow citizens to address crime and conflict and to take an active role in resolving it. CJC offers victim support, conflict resolution, reparative boards, community dialogue and crime prevention programs. There’s a CJC in every county in the state, and South Burlington’s is one of the newer centers (about 2.5 years). There are two part-time staff and a score of volunteers. More volunteers are encouraged to participate.

Residents all agreed that these discussions should continue--in one form or another. Councilor Pat Nowak suggested a quasi-committee with interested residents and a councilor liaison.

The continued conversation will not be entirely crime-related. David Duell, a resident of the city for 50 years, expressed his sentiment about not forgetting the bigger picture:

“If you take value in yourself and your community, it betters the community; it’s not just about the burglaries and the drugs,” he said. “It’s making sure our parks are cleaner, that the roads are cleared in winter,  that the elderly people in the neighborhood know that they can rely on the friendly neighbor that’s going to help. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent