Wesley Chapel citizens come together to start community safety program
Wesley Chapel citizens are fed up with neighborhood crime. Residents from around the village recently geared up to fight crime by expanding their community watch programs.
Council member Kim Ormiston headed up an informative meeting June 30 for any local citizens interested in starting a community watch program or getting involved with an already established one. Residents from five different neighborhoods attended the meeting, eager to learn about what they can do to help their community prevent crime.
Ormiston brought in Union County Deputies A.J. Mainero and Cornelius Sullivan to speak on behalf of the police department. Mainero and Sullivan presented statistics on crime in the area and educated the citizens on what they can do to get the most out of community watch organizations.
The concept of community watch was developed in the 1970s with the goal of bringing a community together to prevent crime. The program helps residents from the same neighborhood to communicate with each other about acts of crime that have been committed and any suspicious activity that is observed.
The community watch organization sets up block or street captains in the neighborhood, who communicate frequently with nearby residents and keep them up-to-date on any important information. Actions can be as elaborate as people wearing special polo shirts, walking and observing the neighborhood at certain times, or as simple as just being aware of what is happening.
“The biggest benefit to community watch is that it’s so proactive,” Ormiston said.
The sheriff’s office works alongside community watch programs to investigate incidents where citizens have noticed suspicious activity. In addition, the department also provides the community with information about watch organizations and how to start a program in a certain area.
“The best way to stop crime is to prevent it,” Mainero said.
Wesley Chapel has seen a steady rise in crime over the past decade. Property crimes, including house and car break-ins, are the most common offenses in the Union County village. Ormiston reported an incident in her community where nine cars were broken into during a single night. Locked houses and cars do not always prevent break-ins.
Mainero and Sullivan addressed certain actions community members can take to deter criminals. Mainero discouraged leaving valuables visible in a car. Sullivan addressed home break-ins, encouraging residents to install a house alarm and display a sign outside that says the home is protected by a security system. According to Sullivan, most home break-ins involve criminals seeking money to buy drugs. These perpetrators want a quick in-and-out and usually do not hit homes with security systems.
Other protections directly related to community watch programs include mailbox plaques provided for block captains and warning signs displayed in the neighborhoods. The signs are provided by sheriff’s department at a low cost.
“I would really strongly recommend the signs as a deterrence,” Ormiston said.
Sullivan advised community members to get to know each other, keep a watch out for strange and unfamiliar vehicles, and talk to suspicious people, asking them questions about how they are and where they live.
“If you hit them with enough questions, they’ll go somewhere else,” Sullivan said.
Wesley Chapel plans to continue promoting community watch with National Night Out, which will take place at the Wesley Chapel Target parking lot Aug. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will include the Union County Explorer’s group, which provides Kid ID Kits to children, games, face-painting, and free information on crime awareness, including community watch organizations.
Neighborhoods wishing to start a community watch program can contact the sheriff’s department and the neighborhood homeowners’ associations. Those without HOAs can simply contact the sheriff’s department for information and get several residents involved to alert the neighborhood about the developing organization.
“As far as community watch goes, this is something we can get going in any neighborhood,” Mainero said.