The Neighborhood Watch groups in Virginia are taking it to the streets, but on another level, kicking off the introduction of the Crime Prevention - Neighborhood Watch license plates that advertise their presence around the community and give out the Web site for further inquiries.
Fairfax County police officer Ed O'Carroll at the Franconia Station was behind the plates. Now they are being introduced statewide.
"This is the first Neighborhood Watch license plate in the country. It was an idea of mine that goes back about two years," O'Carroll said.
He got the idea from seeing a Pennsylvania license plate with Web information listed on it promoting a cause, and he applied it to his crime-prevention efforts.
"This is a great way to show the unity among volunteers in the Neighborhood Watch program. It's a great way for them to show everybody they're active to making their community safer," he said.
ALONG WITH the Web site, there's McGruff the Crime Dog and the logo "Take a Bite Out of Crime." McGruff is a logo of the National Crime Prevention Council based in Washington, D.C.
"We got their approval to put it on the plate," he said.
The price is $25 apiece, and it is sponsored by the Virginia Crime Prevention Association. No plates will be made until they have received 350 prepaid applications. O'Carroll said the Neighborhood Watch groups are active in Roanoke, Bristol and Virginia Beach, as well as Northern Virginia.
"We expect to meet that 350 [plate] threshold," he said.
Pat Harris, the executive director of the Virginia Crime Prevention Association, participated in a study of Neighborhood Watch households in the 1980s when he was with the Department of Criminal Justice and determined that there were around 400,000 households participating in the program statewide.
O'Carroll started spreading the word on National Night Out, Aug. 6.
"It was one of the things we were talking about," O'Carroll said.
Harris also promoted it on the National Night Out and has seen some feedback already.
"We've gotten some applications in from that," he said.
IN THE BROOKLAND-BUSH HILL area in Lee District, Dorothy Cosby has been active in her Neighborhood Watch since 1982. She heard about the plates from O'Carroll's e-mails, which go out to the Citizens Action Committees (CAC) in his area.
"I know about them because I'm active in the CAC at the Franconia station. It's an opportunity for those who are active in a Neighborhood Watch to publicize the program," she said.
Publicity is one purpose of the plates, but deterrence is another factor.
"I think it would indicate to someone that you were alert," she said.
THE PLATES HAVE competition. There are 180 license plate designs, promoting everything from butterfly heritage or a breast cancer foundation to the Washington Redskins and white-tailed deer. That includes homeland defense topics such as the "Fight Terrorism" plate, as well.
"We're up against the Fight Terrorism plate; there's a lot of organizations out there," he said.
O'Carroll started the process for the new plate by talking with former state Sen. Warren Barry. "It was approved by the Senate and House" in March 2002, according to O'Carroll.
Division of Motor Vehicles spokesperson Pam Goheen explained that 350 plates need to be ordered. "At that point, it goes into development."
After the 350 prepaid applications are submitted, it's not instantaneous. "It usually takes about eight to nine weeks after we get the minimum number," Goheen said.