Barnegat Gets Primer on Neighborhood Watch

Oct 25, 2017

Concerned that their development could be at risk for criminal activity, residents of Heritage Point community in Barnegat Township formed a neighborhood block watch group four years ago. Has it been successful?

“We haven’t had a break-in or an attempted break-in since June 2014,” said Patricia Domzalski, block watch chairwoman. “We started with 68 members, and now we have 113.”

Domzalski and other block watch leaders from her community appeared at a recent meeting at the Lillian Dunfee Elementary School that was geared for residents interested in starting similar crime prevention programs in their neighborhoods.

“You are the ears and eyes of the community,” said Police Lt. Keith Germain to a crowd of approximately 75 in the school gym. “Many of the arrests we make start out as tips from people who see something and call us. If a thought pops into your head that maybe you should call, then you’ve answered your own question. You can’t call us too many times.”

Germain said the Barnegat he knew as a young officer some 25 years ago is different than the one today.

“In the 1990s, we averaged one homicide per year,” he said. “We haven’t had a homicide since November 2000. Violent crime today is 2½ times lower than it was in the mid ’90s. But no matter what, you still need to be watchful.”

Patrolman Jim Purcell, who is police department liaison to block watch groups, said groups do not act as an auxiliary police department, and if members see any suspicious activity, they should never confront the person or persons involved.

“When you see something, you call us and help us do our job,” he said.

Germain and Purcell went over a checklist on how to start a crime watch program. First you need a person or group of people committed to starting a group. Once that is established, a planning committee should be formed to initiate the program.

“The group can discuss specific crime-related issues in their community and stay in touch with homeowners by email or by telephone,” said Germain. “You need to strongly promote that initial neighborhood watch meeting. You could have that meeting at someone’s house or apartment, or even a community center or the library.”

Purcell said the group can appoint block or building captains, whose responsibilities include recruiting new members, maintaining a membership list, keeping members informed about area crime and organizing crime prevention activities.

“You can be flexible with activities,” he said. “You can have periodic meetings, put out a newsletter or invite special speakers.”

The Heritage Point group has done all that and more. Domzalski said members volunteer their time to patrol the 900-plus-home age-restricted community in their private vehicles.

“The time can be at random, day or night,” she said.

Domzalski said the group is also raising awareness of senior scams, such as when someone pretending to be a grandchild calls an elderly person and asks him or her for money because “they got themselves in trouble.”

“The key to a successful watch group is to have people committed,” she said. “It takes time and energy to get one started. The police department is also very helpful in assisting a new group. They’ll answer your questions and closely work with you.”

Mayor Albert Bille said that after the meeting, some 20 people expressed an interest in forming a block watch.

“This was a decent turnout,” said Bille. “With our growing senior population, neighborhood watch groups are very vital to these communities because they can be a target for burglars. The key is to be well organized and stress awareness and education.”

— Eric Englund

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