WILKES-BARRE — Crime is not solely a city problem.
If anyone at Wednesday’s Luzerne County Crime Watch Coalition meeting needed such a reminder, members of Sweet Valley’s neighborhood watch organization, formed in October, gave testament to the fact.
“We saw an increase in vagrancy,” said Mickey Donaghey, a resident of the rural community who joined about 50 people from across Luzerne County at the county Emergency Management building to discuss grassroots anti-crime efforts.
“We saw a lot of juveniles on the streets with no adult supervision, vandalism, quads on the highways,” added fellow member Tom Becker.
“We’re trying to protect our little slice of heaven,” Donaghey added.
The good news? Donaghey and Becker said they believe the group’s efforts have borne fruit in the form of less crime and improved presence by state police who patrol their area.
The bad news? They and other civic-minded participants know they will have to maintain constant vigilance — and to have faith that their efforts make a difference.
“We don’t know what we prevent. We have no idea,” said Charlotte Raup of the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition, who led the gathering. “We can’t measure crime-prevention. Is it working? I hope so.”
That hope attracted representatives from about 15 different neighborhood watch groups, from Hazleton to Avoca, to the meeting for a refresher from Raup and Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office Detective Charles “Chaz” Balogh on best practices for crime watch activities.
“Everyone here knows your neighborhood better than your local police,” Balogh said. “Every cop in Luzerne County would agree with me, too — you guys know when something is out of place.”
Among Balogh’s instructions: Be observant. Take notes and photos. Always travel in pairs when on crime watch patrol, as per local crime watch by-laws. Stay in public view. Call the police.
But as Balogh and Raup also took pains to point out, crime watch volunteers are not police, and should never act like them — don’t carry weapons, don’t attempt to apprehend suspects and don’t interfere with police when they are interviewing or arresting suspects.
“We’re not vigilantes. We’re just the eyes and ears of the police. That’s it,” Raup said.
Balogh and Raup also gave participants advice on common sense steps everyone can take to avoid becoming victims, from locking their cars and not leaving valuables in plain sight to how best they should secure the doors and windows on their homes.
More than this, they also advised residents how to engage more volunteers in the cause, including elderly residents who may not be willing or able to participate in street patrols.
Balogh recommended creating fliers with information about watch groups, as well as knocking on doors and talking to neighbors in person.
“The elderly are a huge asset,” he said. “Even though they may not go out on patrols, those people become ‘window watchers,’ they see everything.”
How to spot meth labs, meanwhile, was a concern shared by many on Wednesday. It is to be the topic of a Sweet Valley community picnic on June 27 at the North Lake pavilion, as well as at the next Luzerne County Crime Watch Coalition meeting on Oct. 9.
Raup also encouraged members to foster such discussions at their own gatherings.
“You’ve got to be able to do these topics yourself,” she said, offering to provide information on everything from meth labs to sexual abuse and financial crimes against the elderly.
For more information, visit www.wbcrimewatch.org or the Luzerne County Crime Watch Coalition page on Facebook.