2016-12-15 / News

OOB Neighborhood Watch ‘a two way street’

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – For the last 10 years the town has had robust programming to foster cooperation between community members and the police department. The town has two distinct bodies to facilitate community support: the Neighborhood Watch, and Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS). Neighborhood Watch and VIPS are themselves subordinate groups to a controlling group, the Community Watch Council.

“Community Watch Council are the ones that have monthly meetings, except July and August,” said Helene Whittaker, Community Watch Council President and Neighborhood Watch coordinator, “and we discuss everything about Neighborhood Watch and other things that are under our wings.”

Whittaker and her husband, Carter Whittaker, both of Ocean Park, have coordinated the group for about five years, Carter Whittaker said. He denied, however, that either of them are “in charge” of the Neighborhood Watch.

Helene Whittaker described her role as more of that of a liaison.

“(Community members) know that I work closely with the police department,” Helene Whittaker said, “and they know that if they have an issue with code or town hall, they know that I will keep on it until it’s resolved.”

The Neighborhood Watch does not involve much “watching” in the sense of active duties or roles of a membership. According to Helene Whittaker, there is no established membership in the group, only community participation. Carter Whittaker described the group as more of a public forum.

“It’s very much a two-way street. Typically we have one or two officers,” Carter Whittaker said.

“(Community members) also have to realize that, if they contact the police, sometimes these issues take time to resolve,” Helene Whittaker said.

According to Carter Whittaker, police officers listen to the concerns and reports of community members at Neighborhood Watch meetings, but they also share their own updates and concerns, and invite input. At the group’s Thursday, Dec. 8 meeting, Sgt. Gerard Hamilton and Officer Brian Pratt were present and engaged with community members about noise complaints at the basketball courts on Atlantic Avenue and also about plans for the recent award of a $100,000 Community Development Block Grant to the police department.

“The purpose of the grant is to combat the heroin epidemic,” Pratt said at the meeting.

According to Pratt, one use of the money will be to deploy a smartphone app, called “MyPD,” which facilitates named or anonymous real-time communication between community members and the police department.

Neighborhood Watch has existed in Old Orchard Beach since about 1991, according to Deputy Chief Tim DeLuca, but it was less structured in the early days. According to Helene Whittaker, the group started working in its current form when the Community Watch Council was organized about 10 years ago. She said that the effort was prompted by a jarring crime incident.

“An outsider, I think shot a guest that was visiting Ocean Park, at night, on the beach,” Helene Whittaker said.

DeLuca said he doesn’t believe the crime was a shooting, but he affirmed that it was a homicide. He said that the incident reignited interest in Neighborhood Watch.

“Not only was Old Orchard Beach a quiet town, but also Ocean Park,” DeLuca said. “Ocean Park is an older, family oriented neighborhood.”

According to DeLuca, homicides in Old Orchard Beach do happen, but they’re rare.

Since the Neighborhood Watch program has been going, DeLuca said, it’s been a success.

“It’s been proven that it has a positive impact on our reduction and the solvability of crimes,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca added that it also gives the police department a better understanding of what the needs of the community are.

VIPS is a separate program also operated locally by the police department, as part of a larger nation-wide program. Volunteers for VIPS actively assist the department with responsibilities such as traffic control, according to Capt. Elise Chard. Members receive trainings in skills like, for example, CPR. VIPS also uses a citizen patrol car that operates from the police station.

VIPS meetings are not open to the public. The first 15 minutes of Community Watch Council meetings are open to the public, but the rest of the meeting is for members only. Neighborhood Watch meetings happen in the police department classroom at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursdays of September, December, March, and June. For information about Community Watch Council or Neighborhood Watch, contact oobcwc@yahoo.com.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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