Whether you are at home or away, sometimes the best security system is watchful neighbors.
Through the Oak Creek Police Department's neighborhood watch program, volunteers become block captains to help prevent crime in their community. Captains connect with their neighbors, host a training session with local law enforcement and pass out quarterly security newsletters.
"The program is very simple," said Kim Bogadi, of the OCPD community resource bureau. "We handle the literature, signs, stickers and teaching the program. The biggest duty of a block captain is to hand out a newsletter four times a year."
From litter to leader
Sue Patnode, of the 3600 block of E. Becker Road, chose to organize the program in her neighborhood after finding excess litter in the woods near her home.
Concerned, Patnode contacted Bogadi and organized a meeting at her house. Six of her neighbors showed up on her back porch to talk about starting the program and to learn how to observe and report suspicious behavior.
"When the meeting started, Kim had a mailbox with a sign that said 'Put Your Wallet in Here,'" Patnode said. "We didn't know what it was, but learned that you put your mail containing check, credit card numbers and more in your mailbox sitting out in the open. It made us more alert and aware."
Since then, the program has expanded to much of the neighborhood between Elm and County Line roads. Residents have taken action to watch suspicious cars, alert authorities of missing traffic signage and barricade an abused service road.
"Before we were aware of all this, cars came and went," Patnode said. "We didn't know who they were, but at that time it wasn't our business. Now it is. We feel much safer because everyone is looking out for each other. Your neighbors are watching you and you're watching them. That's the idea of the neighborhood watch."
From graffiti to chalk art
West of Patnode's neighborhood, Gerald Riepl, of the 9900 block of Cindy Lane, relaxes care-free in his backyard.
"I called about two years ago concerned about things that were happening in our area and about starting a neighborhood watch," he said.
After meeting with Bogadi and neighbors in his large backyard, 11 houses joined the neighborhood watch. Now each member has person information sheets, with colors and car models, home and cell phone numbers.
"With the sheets, if the guy next door has a car in front, I know what's supposed to be there," Riepl said. "If it isn't one I know, I can call and ask my neighbors about the suspicious car."
Their action has decreased crime and ended graffiti in this area. Today, the only "tagging" one can see are from two young girls decorating the sidewalk with colorful chalk images.
"I don't understand how people say they don't have time for this," Riepl said. "Kim did all the work. She contacted all my neighbors and scheduled the meeting and delivers all the quarterly newsletters. At most, it takes 10 minutes to go up and down the block passing them out.
"There is no excuse. If you're home, you are participating. All you have to do is look outside and notice anything out of the ordinary."