It’s why the Weaver councilwoman said she was shocked when more than a month ago her neighbor pounded on her door in broad daylight to say a burglar had kicked in her door and began rummaging for items.
“It was about 2 in the afternoon, I couldn’t believe it,” Cole said. “I’ve been thinking for a long time we needed a crime watch. This is an older neighborhood, lots of elderly. It’s long overdue.”
Using the alleged burglary as an impetus, Cole’s neighbor, Greg Pierce, took it upon himself to set up a neighborhood crime watch for the Shannon Hills area of Weaver, hosting a meeting Tuesday with residents and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s about being a good witness,” Pierce said about setting up the program, which encourages neighbors to keep an eye out for suspicious activity in their communities. “You don’t get involved or try to be the police, but you work with the police to make sure the neighborhood is safe.”
Attempts to reach Weaver police Chief Wayne Bush this week to confirm the burglary were unsuccessful, but crime reports provided by the city show six reported burglaries in Weaver during the month of May.
Like any type of crime prevention, numbers measuring the effect neighborhood watches have on crime reduction are impossible to calculate. But Calhoun County Deputy Jon Garlick said crime watches, when organized well, go beyond just reporting crimes and putting up signs. They involve neighbors looking after each other and taking an active role in making sure things going on in their streets are as they should be.
“By the time a crime is reported to us, it’s already in progress,” Garlick said. “We’re in the neighborhoods and we may drive up the street, but we don’t know if a vehicle is suspicious or if it shouldn’t be in there, but people in the neighborhood do.”
Pierce said he wanted to set up the watch through the Sheriff’s Office after neighbor and Weaver Councilman Les Hill suggested having an independent crime watch might lead people to get the wrong idea. Hill, an investigator with the Anniston Police Department, said he was concerned with the perception of crime watches after an incident in Florida last year involving the shooting death of an unarmed teenager by local neighborhood watch participant, George Zimmerman.
“I told him you probably shouldn’t just set this up yourself,” Hill said. “That’s probably not a good idea.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the Zimmerman case, which went through jury selection in a Florida courtroom this week, has caused a certain amount of backlash against neighborhood watch groups.
“It certainly painted some of them with a black eye,” Amerson said. “The perception based on what happened in Florida is we promote people taking action, which isn’t true. We promote being a good witness.”
Being a good witness, though, might be the hardest thing for neighbors to do, said Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis. While the Zimmerman case might be an example of the dangers of an overzealous neighborhood watch program, Willis said in his experience the problem with crime watches was usually just the opposite.
“To be honest, they tend to become inactive,” said Willis, who worked as an Anniston police officer for more than 20 years. “Neighborhood watches are only as good as the participants in them. You can say you have a crime watch, you can put up the signs, but if you don’t stay active, and stay vigilant, it’s a useless tool.”
Willis said the watches tend to become inactive, especially in areas that didn’t have a lot of crime to begin with, much like Shannon Hills.
“I’ve always thought this was a safe neighborhood, and I’ve lived here more than 20 years,” said Luanne Gowens, one of Pierce’s neighbors on Woodlock Lane, who was invited to Tuesday’s meeting. “I still think a crime watch is a great idea, but I don’t think Shannon Hills is particularly dangerous.”
Pierce said he didn’t think of the neighborhood as a hotbed of criminal activity either, but said the added benefits to a crime watch included a potential rise in property values. More importantly, he said, it opens up the channels of communication between neighbors and law enforcement.
And that’s the best way for communities to continue to stay crime-free, Amerson said.
“They are very effective” Amerson said. “They let criminals know, if you’re here, we’re watching you, and we’re going to report you.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.