Changing a high crime area can be done and the folks in one western Newton community have made the transition, according to Newton County Sheriff's Office Community Liaison Cpl. Anthony Washington. It will celebrate by participating in this year's National Night Out event.
National Night Out, observed the first Tuesday in August, is an annual crime and drug awareness event that takes place in neighborhoods across the country where residents gather to support prevention and policing efforts.
The Covington neighborhood of Lakewood Estates, including surrounding apartments and condos, will host the county's first National Night Out event from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the neighborhood's Enclave, or recreation area.
Margaret Freeman, Neighborhood Watch Program coordinator, is enthusiastic about the event and the progress her community has made against crime.
"Safety is just everybody's concern. We have to be the eyes and ears for one another," Freeman said.
The evening will include a cookout, presentations from different security companies, self-defense demonstrations by UMAC Karate studio, and bullying tips for youths. In addition to appearances from Newton County deputies, there will also be a school supply giveaway and demonstrations of door locks and security by Home Depot and Lowe's.
Pointing to previous vandalism and other crimes in the area, Freeman added the information and resources at the event will help address safety concerns.
"We've had several incidents in the community. It hasn't been bad. We've had a couple of people who were victims of attempted break-ins," Freeman said.
The slogan for Freeman's program is "We Look Out for Each Other," Freeman said, calling their efforts "citizens on patrol."
"Nowadays, you don't get to know your next-door neighbor," Freeman said. "The economy has hit the community pretty hard, just like any other community ... so we have a mixture of homeowners and renters and we're all here together."
Washington said it was decided by the Sheriff's Office that this year's event at the Enclave would mark the beginning of Newton County's participation in the national program and they would expand from there.
"Gradually we're going to get other subdivisions involved," he said. "Next year we're planning a major block party."
Washington said there had previously been a number of burglaries and other crimes in that area located in the extreme western portion of the county, near the Rockdale County line. He said in the cold of last winter he and interested community leaders walked door-to-door throughout the community in order to enlist residents in the Neighborhood Watch program.
"There are three phases in that community and they were not working together, so we wanted to get the entire community involved," he said. "We're looking for it now to be one of our models to show where they were and how far they've come because they've been working hard at it."
That same night in Rockdale County, the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office is partnering with Target on Ga. Highway 20 to host a free National Night Out event from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Target parking lot. The public is invited to enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs and learn from public safety displays put on by law enforcement, Conyers Police Department, Rockdale County Fire and Rescue, and other county service departments. General safety information, including what to do while out of town and being familiar with surroundings, will also be available.
Rockdale Citizen reporter Alena Parker contributed to this story.