In times of terrorist and sniper attacks, people are looking for ways to protect themselves and feel more secure in their neighborhoods.
At the Fall 2002 Braddock District Town Meeting Oct. 9, Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and public safety officials discussed ways for local citizens to keep their communities a safe place to live and work.
“We need to remain diligent and observant of activities, not because we’re paranoid but because we want to stay safe," said Chief Tom Manger of the Fairfax County Police.
The Town Meeting was organized in response to the Pres. George W. Bush's call for national home defense and anti-terrorism initiatives after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), in collaboration with the United States Department of Justice and a newly created Citizen Corps, is asking law enforcement agencies and citizen organizations to double the number of neighborhood-watch programs over the next two years.
BONNIE BRAE neighborhood-watch coordinator Nancy Davis frequently roams the streets for “for sale” signs in an effort to recruit new neighbors for the program.
“Neighborhood watches will be playing a bigger role in the future because of homeland security,” Davis said. “The signs around the block provide comfort and make people feel safer.”
In another neighborhood, 26-patrol teams take turns throughout the year walking, driving or jogging around the neighborhood. Norm Cherkis, neighborhood-watch coordinator of Rose Hill, referred to his area as an ethnically diverse neighborhood with ordinary citizens who have an intense interest in their community.
“We look for anything suspicious such as large trucks or commercial vehicles,” said Cherkis. “They don’t belong in residential areas unless providing service.”
At the meeting, officials addressed issues involving the structures needed to organize community programs and measures necessary to respond to emergency situations.
“After 9/11, there was a wealth of volunteerism,” said Bulova. “But we could have done a much better job of responding had we had the right architecture in place to respond.”
Part of improving this architecture includes organizing and putting to use talented volunteers.
“There is no shortage of talent in this county,” Manger said. “The police department has partnered with Volunteer Fairfax to obtain a database of volunteers for emergencies and catastrophes. And whether it’s a terrorist attack, child abduction or a rainstorm, there is always an outpouring of volunteers.”
ACCORDING TO the Virginia Crime Prevention Association (VCPA), several hundred thousand households are participating in neighborhood-watch programs in Virginia. They depend on volunteerism and the public’s efforts to become involved at the grassroots level of homeland security.
Pat Harris, executive director of the VCPA, said that there have been efforts under way to improve the neighborhood-watch programs, especially after the Bush stressed their importance.
“Eighty percent of the programs want to make homeland security their mission and we want residents to support that mission," said Harris.
Some of the main activities of neighborhood watches groups include the reporting of crimes and suspicious activities as well as promoting neighborliness. On Tuesday, Aug. 6, area neighborhoods participated in the National Night Out, a nationwide event to commemorate citizen participation. The campaign involved citizens, law enforcement and neighborhood organizations from 9,500 communities across the nation that came together in an effort to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness and to strengthen neighborhood spirit.