A talk given by Sheriff Marty Fisher, of South, West Union Sheriff’s Office,Iowa, explained the simplicity of implementing a Neighborhood Watch program.
When Fisher gave the talk on implementing a Neighborhood Watch system in Elgin, Iowa, on Monday February 5, the turn-out was low.
The turn-out was in sharp contrast to the approximately 160 that turned up to a discussion held previously at one of the Legio, according to Sarah Schori, one of the four people that were present, including the city clerk, Rhonda Dales.
Fisher explained that the program is provided by the people living in the neighborhood.
“We at law enforcement work with them, but it is totally organized by citizens,” he said. “It is not expensive to set up, people volunteer to correspond with each other and if they see any illegal activities they inform the police,” he added.
Elgin used to have its own police department. There are six other cities in the county that don’t have law enforcement. Fisher’s department answers emergency calls for the county.
Fisher said that the number of police stations has decreased since the 1970s when he first came here.
“There used to be 11 cities with officers, now there are 4 cities in Fayette county,because of cutbacks,” he said. “I remember when Elgin had 4 part-time officers. After 9/11 the state of Iowa reduced that number. West Union had five officers and that went to four. Olwein also reduced,” he explained.
There are now 11 officers in Wineshiek, 12 in Clayton County and eight in Fayette county. “But we are always going to respond and do the best we can,” he said.
“Clermont has a very good Neighborhood Watch system,” Fisher said. “We took down three different Meth labs in that city [tiny village] and that’s how it came about. I’d like to see this happening in all of them,” he pointed out.
Elgin is one of the cities that do not have their own police presence. Fisher explained how citizens need to get involved in their own city, even though they don’t have a police force.
“It is the duty of every citizen to be a citizen,” Fisher said. “It can start with a small group, a chairperson to start up and block captains who will look after a small area, they report to each other and everyone is involved. A lot of the time people say that they don’t want to get involved, but we can’t charge anyone unless people stand up. It’s been very successful in Clermont,” he said.
Dales said that she felt the biggest thing was just getting people to step up. Fisher told her its tough but you’ve got to keep on pushing it. He also stressed the importance of reporting criminal activity at the time of the incident. He recalled an incident in Elgin where people had listened to criminal activity for hours without reporting it until the next day, when it was too late to do anything.
He also mentioned sex offenders and Dales asked about the legalities of making an ordinance to prevent them from moving into the area. His response was that it has been done in other places and has not been challenged.
Olwein, he said, has created a safety zone and sex offenders are not allowed to come within 2000 feet of a licensed daycare center, but that does not stop them from parking outside libraries and other places where children hang out and then follow them. Hence the importance of a Neighborhood Watch program in cities that do not have a constant police presence.
There are two licensed day cares in Elgin, according to Dales. “I fear the parks, what would stop someone from sitting out at the park and following a child home,” said Dales.
“Neighborhood Watch could help to prevent that,” said Fisher.
“Rental properties are a problem because people come and go – and when the bills are paid by the landlord, no one knows who the renter is,” Dales added.
Fisher said to watch out for houses that have a lot of traffic; it is an indication of wrong doing that law enforcement would like to look into.
Kathy Butikofer expressed her concerns over buildings that are left with a residue from Meth and wanted to know what could be done about that. Fisher explained that these places are sealed by the DEA until they are cleaned and considered safe.
Fisher said that citizens should watch out for suspicious activity and report it to the block captain who will in turn report to law enforcement and this way people do not have to be concerned with fears of repercussion for being labeled a ‘snitch.’
When asked if he thought that the whole Meth thing had been reduced, Fishersaid that over the last year since fall it has reduced by a whopping 72 percent.
“In the last three years in Fayette county, since the state changed the Sudafedrinelaws and locking up anhydrous tanks (nytrogen based fertilizer) has cut out the ma and pop labs established back in the 90s. A lot of it is now brought in from Mexico instead of being made here, it is mostly being bought. A lot of people are addicted so there is a call for it. But the percentage has still reduced,” he said. “People could smell anhydrous but didn’t report it, if they had of reported it, it could have been taken care of sooner. But, I have no magic wands on how to get the community involved,’ he explained.
Fisher also said that people pay a lot of attention to drugs and forget about the abuses with alcohol and that if anyone is aware of houses throwing parties where children are using alcohol it is also something that should be reported.
Elgin has a curfew for minors, but Dales said that it doesn’t seem to make any difference and people are known to come to Elgin to party because they know that there is not a police presence, so they think that they won’t get caught.
A Neighborhood Watch starter kit costs in the region of $39, this would provide enough signs for the Elgin entry points.
It would take about six citizens to set up a program it was worked out; six block captains would be enough to cover all the areas. Businesses would clearly benefit from the program Fisher pointed out.
It is hoped that some interest will come from this article and there is some talk of sending out notices, but nothing can be decided until the city council meets again.