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Neighborhood Watch Expands Roll

Endorsed by President George Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, crime prevention groups have shifted gears since Sept. 11 and are now part of the homeland defense initiative.

According to National Crime Prevention Association representative Faye Warren at a training session at the Franconia District Station, March 14, expansion to the Neighborhood Watch groups is part of the agenda.

"We were community police for a while, now we're homeland security, but it's basically the same duties," she said.

THERE ARE 7,500 Neighborhood Watch patrols in the country.

"President Bush and John Ashcroft asked that we double that," Warren said at the training session attended by representatives from police departments all over the region as well as Neighborhood Watch groups. They will take the message back to their neighborhoods and spread the word.

Officers from the City of Fairfax police department, as well as Prince William, Alexandria, Arlington, Stafford County, Virginia State Police, Fairfax Sheriff’s office, Fairfax County and Amtrak police filled the seats.

The "out of the ordinary" was something that was highlighted. Arlington Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Shawn Kelly went over bomb, evacuation and investigation procedures.

"You want to look for things that are different, you need to be suspicious," he said.

He featured a slide show with pictures of pipe bombs, car bombs and timing devices, stressing how easy it is to buy the materials to make them in this country. A typical hardware store would be a good place to start, according to Kelly.

"I just buy the gunpowder, and out I go. The No. 1 explosive threat is the pipe bomb," he said.

There hasn't been a terrorist incident directly connected to the local police groups or any neighborhoods in the Northern Virginia area, but Franconia Crime Prevention Officer Ed O'Carroll saw the potential of the training.

"They're learning how to recognize the potential terrorist threat," he said.

Mary Nugent, a Fairfax County Police auxiliary officer, remembered an incident in her neighborhood in the Baileys Crossroads area where a truck showed up in her neighborhood that hadn't been seen before. It was parked on the side of the road.

"We knocked on all the doors in the townhouse community," then she called the Falls Church police. "It was within three hours, they didn't wait," she said.

The truck turned out to be in use by someone moving into the area, but Nugent didn't feel overly careful about the incident.

Kelly stressed the importance of calling in anything suspicious.

"Let other people deal with it, it's not costing you a dime, you pay taxes," he said.

The "Citizens' Preparedness Guide," a book sponsored by the USA Freedom Corps, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Department of Justice, was handed out. It contains a section on preparedness in the home and neighborhood, with sections on emergency preparedness, evacuation plans, mail, computers, children, at work, at places of worship, at the airport and traveling overseas.

Alexandria neighborhood watch member Emery Antonucci will present the book at his next civic meeting. "One of them [civic meetings] will combine this with the regular civic association meeting," he said.

Kim Purcell, a City of Alexandria crime prevention specialist, noted the full house at the training session. "I think since Sept. 11, more departments are sending people, this has brought us closer together. A training session will be done on this," she said.

Volunteer Dottie Stepp is the president of the Crime Prevention Council in Arlington. "In order for this to work, the citizens are going to have to take some responsibility," she said.

ONE QUESTION from the audience concentrated on bomb precautions in the schools.

"There are a lot of backpacks, kids just leave them anywhere and everywhere. Do you have this training?" one man asked.

Kelly noted an earlier discussion on this with the suggestions of mandatory measures requiring clear backpacks so a bomb couldn't be hidden, or mandatory name tags.

"There are things schools can do right now to lessen anxiety," he said.

Burke resident William Morrogh has a Neighborhood Watch in his community. He had his car vandalized before, but the culprit was never caught.

A Rolling Valley woman, who chose not to give her name, has seen tires slashed and cars broken into in her neighborhood. There is a watch in Rolling Valley as well.

"I feel more comfortable, a few things have happened and they were on top of it. That's the last time it happened," she said.

Sharon Williams lives right down the street from Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield. She isn't sure if there is a Neighborhood Watch in that neighborhood.

"It would be nice to have one, then everyone's kind of watching each other," she said.

As far as combating potential terrorists, she thinks the possibility exists.

"It could start with a Neighborhood Watch," she said.