COVINGTON -- The Newton County Sheriff's Office is looking for a few good eyes and ears to help it be proactive in fighting crime, and Community Outreach Liaison Cpl. Anthony Washington is signing up those willing to join the fight. One of the weapons in their arsenal is the Neighborhood Watch program.
"People understand that we are in a recession and a lot of people are out of jobs. So, quite naturally, we're going to have a lot of people out there preying on citizens," Washington said, adding that burglary is a crime the NCSO is dealing with quite often these days. "To prevent themselves from becoming a victim, people want to get on board with Neighborhood Watch where they can protect their homes along with their communities."
Washington said there are about 40 Neighborhood Watches established throughout Newton County and it is Sheriff Ezell Brown's goal for that to be expanded.
"The sheriff wants to make sure that we incorporate all eight zones within the county, every subdivision in the county," Washington said. "He wants to make sure they're on board with a Neighborhood Watch."
Washington said in forming a Neighborhood Watch, he gives tips on things individuals can easily do to avoid becoming a victim of crime.
"One of the things I remind them of is when they go on vacation and they forget to stop their newspaper subscription, all those papers build up in the driveway," he said. "When those perpetrators drive by and see you haven't been collecting those newspapers, that's an indicator."
He said would-be burglars also look for blinds that have been closed for several days in a row or porch lights burning continuously or even the fact that no noise is coming from a house.
"When you leave home in the morning, make sure there's a radio on. Don't leave your house totally silent because if they're walking up and canvassing your house ... if there's a radio on, that's voices and they can't tell whether it's an individual or a radio," Washington said.
And, remember, a little dishonesty to prevent crime is not against the rules.
"If you have a wooden fence, put up a 'Beware of the Dog' sign, regardless of whether you have a dog or not," he advised.
Washington told of an elderly lady who said she was afraid because she lived alone and seldom had family or friends come by.
"I told her, why don't you put a pair of old boots out on the front porch? People walking by and approaching your house with that pair of old boots, they don't know whether you've got a man living there or not," he said. "We have to change up and play along with the criminals. That's how we stay ahead."
Washington said he always encourages people to call and report any suspicious activity, no matter how inconsequential they think it might be.
"Always call because that suspicious person walking down the street may be one of our burglars and we can probably close three or four cases from that one individual," he said. " ... and you may stop your neighbor from being burglarized."
And in case a residence is burglarized, Washington said it is very important that descriptions, photos and serial numbers of valuables be recorded and kept in a safe place.
"When we come out for a burglary ... and there's no serial numbers, it's highly unlikely that we're going to find that stuff," he said. "But if we have a serial number, we can check with the pawn shops and if somebody is in possession of it ... we can more than likely take that property back because we have those numbers written down." He also said the stolen items could be listed on the statewide GCIC data base and if ever found, could be matched with the owner.
Washington and his team will meet with a community interested in forming a Neighborhood Watch wherever possible -- a clubhouse, a neighbor's garage or even at the auditorium at the Sheriff's Office -- and whenever the most participants can come, including nights and weekends. He said it requires only two to three interested parties to begin the organization and usually as word spreads, there's no shortage of folks interested to find out what's going on.
He said the community presentation includes a PowerPoint presentation, which guides residents on use of the NCSO Web site that gives citizens an analysis of what sort of crime is occurring their neighborhood and their location. Also, they are furnished with a listing of sex offenders living within a two- to three-mile radius, complete with photos.
"Just by accessing our Web site, there's a lot of valuable information the citizens of Newton County can find out," Washington said.
Also, an array of printed material is available for Neighborhood Watch participants that details the type of public education programs available from the NCSO, an attendance sheet which encourages the exchange of e-mail addresses and phone numbers among neighbors, as well as resource guides for other agencies. Also, a free sign is erected in the neighborhood by Newton County Public Works and additional signs can be purchased for a nominal fee.
For more information on staying safe or organizing a Neighborhood Watch, Washington can be reached at 678-625-1417 or visit the Web at www.newtonsheriffga.org and click on public outreach.
"We want the community to be proactive. Law enforcement is done primarily on reaction. A crime occurs, and they call 911, and 911 notifies us. That's reaction. We want to be proactive," Washington said.