When Great Falls resident Mary Sherlock left her garage door open one night, she was surprised to make an unpleasant discovery the next morning.
"It was clear that the car had been rifled through," said Sherlock. "Nothing was taken, but it was still a little unnerving."
Although generally considered to be a very safe community, recent burglaries in the Dranesville District have served as a reminder that, no matter what, citizens should always be aware of their surroundings and err on the side of caution.
"I don't think there is any place in the country that is safe enough to leave your door unlocked and your windows open," said Captain Mike Vencak of the Fairfax County Police Reston Station. "A lot of criminals are locals."
Last Wednesday, February 8, Neighbors International, LLC held its first "Hot Topics Luncheon." Members of the community e-mail network were able to register for the luncheon in advance. Sponsored by Elite Electrical Corp. and held at The Old Brogue Irish Pub in Great Falls, the event featured Capt. Vencak and Lt. Chris Marsh of the Reston Station. Both officers discussed community safety and fielded questions from those in attendance.
Capt. Vencak advised citizens to use common sense and warned them against the dangers of underestimating the possibility of crime in their community.
"You are all in large areas, and you have a lot of service people coming and going," said Vencak. "People ask me all the time ''what's suspicious?' and I say, 'well what is suspicious to you?' You know what's normal for your neighborhood."
Resident Norah Geraghty pointed out that citizens might be reluctant to call the police over nothing.
"It's that feeling that you don't want to be a bother," said Geraghty.
VENCAK AND MARSH noted that if that is the case there are a multitude of options for reporting suspicious activity. Residents can call the non-emergency police line, or they may register an occurrence online. However Vencak emphasized that community involvement is instrumental to the success of the police.
"If I told you your community was safe, but you didn't feel safe, does that make it safe? No it doesn't. We all have to work together," said Vencak.
Neighbors founder Sharon Rainey also brought up the fact that reporting suspicious activity allows police to keep thorough records.
"It's important for police to recognize the trends," said Rainey.
Vencak also discussed the importance of active parenting.
"In 2005, 22 people were murdered in Fairfax County... 62 people were killed in fatal automobile accidents," said Vencak. "That means that almost three times more people were killed in car accidents."
Noting that one of these fatalities was a Great Falls teenager, and that speed and alcohol were involved, Vencak encouraged parents to take an active role in teaching their children how to drive responsibly. He also mentioned the fact that there is a youth driving education course offered through Fairfax County.
"We are their teachers," said Vencak. "A lot of us are trying to be friends with our kids, not parents, and we need to be parents. No means no."
Patricia Stevens, Regional Director of Human Services for North County, also attended last Wednesday's luncheon. Stevens said that her organization attempts "to be a liaison for community information" on issues such as domestic violence and gang violence.
"There are just tremendous needs for people to come out and help with tutoring and mentoring," said Stevens.
Other issues that were discussed were personal safety, teens putting themselves in danger via Internet chat rooms and web sites, identity theft and car theft.
"Vehicle break-ins, vehicles being tampered with... we're all susceptible to it," said Lt. Marsh. "Do not leave anything of value in your car because that's just asking for people to break in and take your stuff."
Marsh also recommended that, women in particular, park in well-lit areas and avoid parking next to vans. Vencak recommended the SAFE personal safety course that teaches women "how not to be a victim."
Neighbors Special Projects Coordinator Karen Bush asked about what to do in the case of children left by themselves in vehicles.
"Sometimes when I am out with my children I notice that people leave their child in the car — is that something that I should call in? In this one case I saw the guy come out of the store twice and tell the kid to stop screaming. It made my skin crawl," said Bush.
Vencak said that "even if it's a cool fall day," any time a child is left alone in a car, the police should be called.
"If you are ever in doubt, 'should I call, should I not call?' The answer is call," said Vencak. "It's better to be safe than sorry."
<ro>Neighbors International Offers "Women's Health" Luncheon
<lst>Neighbors International, a local online community network, invites the public to attend its second "Hot Topic" luncheon of 2006, entitled "Women's Health." The luncheon will feature Dr. Ilene Robeck, an internist and McLean resident. The luncheon will be held on March 8, from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., at the Old Brogue Restaurant in the Village Center of Great Falls. The cost is $20 in advance or $25 at the door, and it covers lunch, dessert, beverage, tax and gratuity. Luncheon prices are kept to a minimum through the generous sponsorship of local businesses. This luncheon is being sponsored by John Nugent & Sons. If interested, please register by March 7 by contacting Neighbors at 703-759-2102, or look online at www.neighbors-international.com for registration information. A schedule of future luncheon topics is also available, including Financial Planning, Family Fitness, Child Safety and Safe International Travel.