SOUTHINGTON — Growing neighborhood watch groups have provided police with tips that resulted in drug charges for a Wolcott man last week and video footage and other information on a shooting on Rethal Street Saturday.
Police are working to provide guidance and training to watch efforts that now cover every street in town. Facebook groups for the watches, which have nearly 4,000 members, formed in response to car thefts and burglaries.
“We have a lot of energy in Southington to reduce this car crime,” said Michael Leone, a resident who first called for forming the groups. “We’re only just beginning.”
The Police Department chose Officer Christopher LaPorte as liaison to the neighborhood groups. He’ll be providing training and advice.
LaPorte was optimistic that vigilant residents can deter the car crimes that have been on the rise this year.
“The more members you have, it decreases opportunities for criminals to commit crimes. There’s more eyes and ears out there watching,” he said. “We just want to make sure it’s done the right way. We don’t want people getting hurt or taking matters into their own hands.”Real-time tips
Police Lt. Keith Egan said police don’t routinely follow the various neighborhood watch groups on Facebook but that he happened to be reading them as the police were receiving tips about a suspicious vehicle. Calls are the best way to get information to police, according to Egan, and residents shouldn’t assume police see their social media posts.
Callers said that a car was driving around Sun Valley Drive area and one person was getting out periodically as the car stopped in front of houses. It was consistent with how thieves have operated elsewhere, Egan said. Police were able to stop the car and charged the driver, Peter Rolny, 46, 12 Spindle Hill Road, Apt 6A, Wolcott, with 20 counts of illegal possession of substances such as crack cocaine and heroin.
“It’s 100 percent based on their complaint,” Egan said.Suspicious activity
Rather than home surveillance camera footage of a crime committed the night before, the watch groups have provided immediate information to police about suspicious activity or recognized cars. LaPorte said the more people who join the watch groups, the more effective they become although neighborhood watch members need guidance on what constitutes “suspicious activity.”
As burglaries from cars have risen, so have calls to police about suspicious vehicles. Amazon delivery drivers in their own unmarked private vehicles have raised alarm in some neighborhoods.
“I don’t blame the citizens for it because of what’s going on,” LaPorte said. “But I also try to explain, just a vehicle driving up and down the street isn’t suspicious.”
LaPorte said resident should call police about cars driving around without headlights, or stopping frequently at houses and getting in and out with the car running.Be good witnesses
Egan and LaPorte said they also want to dissuade neighborhood watch members from confronting thieves or trying to detain anyone. Egan said he’s seen talk online about blocking in suspicious cars or putting out bait cars. Residents should focus on getting good descriptions of suspicious vehicles or people instead.
“Just call us, be good witnesses and don’t put yourself in dangerous positions,” Egan said.
“You don’t know what kind of person that is in your driveway. You don’t know if they have weapons,” LaPorte said. “We don’t want you going outside confronting people. We want you to be safe, that’s the main purpose here … It’s a crime of property. It’s not like someone is hurting a person. We don’t want someone getting hurt for that.”
Despite a recent spike in vehicle crimes, most crimes continue to drop as they have since the mid-1990s, according to John DeCarlo, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven and a former Branford police chief. He said vehicle thefts can be prevented by measures such as neighborhood watches as well as the simple steps of locking car doors and garages. While there can never be enough police to patrol the entire town for car burglars, residents who are alert can reduce the opportunities for criminals.
“It’s up to the citizens to be the first line of defense against crime,” DeCarlo said.
While DeCarlo said he understood the frustration with needing to lock up, particularly for those who moved from cities to safer suburban towns, it still needs to be done.
“Crime is ubiquitous.” he said.