Sept. 28, 2004 — Neighborhood Watch signs are popping up all around the Virgin Islands as communities join together against crime. The V. I. Police Department has been meeting with community leaders and encouraging neighborhoods to organize themselves against the criminal element. And over 20 communities in St. Croix, plus communities in St. Thomas and St. John, recently formed neighborhood watches.
Cpl. Shelia Middleton is the supervisor of the St. Croix Crime Prevention Unit. Middleton said the resurgence of the Neighborhood Watch program is part of the department's strategic plan to promote police/community partnerships and reduce crime in neighborhoods. Neighborhood Watch, a program that emphasizes the responsibility of citizens to report and prevent crime in their neighborhoods, helps bridge the gap between police resources and community needs.
"There have always been neighborhood watch groups," said Middleton, "but over the years people have become complacent and some of the groups are no longer active." Middleton said the Virgin Islands is challenged with not having enough law enforcement officers, and concerned residents are the department's best assets.
If that is true, then St. Croix resident Judi Fricks is a very valuable asset. Fricks is waging a campaign to assist communities to set up watch programs. Fricks, an east end resident, sees the value of uniting neighborhoods against crime. Her goal is to establish a series of neighborhood networks. "One resident sees a burglar or other suspicious activity and activates his phone tree, then the block captain notifies his counterpart in the next neighborhood, and so on," explained Fricks. And the movement is catching on. "We have over 24 neighborhoods we are working with."
With crime moving out of the towns and into the neighborhoods, Middleton says many watch programs that were operational years ago need to be re-energized. "There is strength in numbers," said Middleton.
In August, the police department partnered with the Community Foundation on St. Croix in conducting a community assessment of the islands most pressing problems. Overwhelmingly, crime and crime prevention ranked high on the list of priorities. Strengthening the neighborhood watch programs became an important part of the crime prevention approach of the police department.
The Foundation set out to identify and make contact with key people in each island neighborhood. Representatives of the crime prevention division arranged to visit the neighborhood and assist residents with building a watch program.
Kenneth Blake, director of crime prevention on St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island, said neighborhoods are mobilizing. "Water Island is mobilizing, Coral Bay and Fish Bay on St John are coming together and Nazareth, Upper Carrot Bay and Red Hook in St. Thomas are all establishing neighborhood watch programs," said Bake. The value of mobilization is clear said Blake. "When the neighborhoods come together everyone looks out for everyone else."
If you would like to set up a program in your neighborhood, call 778-2211 on St. Croix and 774-2211 on St. Thomas/St. John.
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