By Nicole Ginley-Hidinger
Medford currently has ninety-nine neighborhood watch programs. They need two hundred fifty.
Neighborhood watch volunteers assist the city’s 105 sworn officers by taking note of what is happening in and around their community. For example, recently a Neighborhood Watch team identified drug activity in their neighborhood. One of the subjects was wanted for an outstanding warrant. The volunteers kept watch and reported when the man was in their neighborhood so that the Medford Police Department could make the arrest.
Professor Joe Stone’s economic class is studying the data to determine how effective these neighborhood watch programs are on crime rate.
“What we hope to contribute to the neighborhood watch program is a sense of how effective the programs are, both the ones that are in existence and newer ones,” Stone says. “Mainly in effecting crime rates in the different neighborhoods. We may be able to see if it affects different sorts of crimes differently.”
Their goal is to look at what attributes of a neighborhood watch program have worked in the past, comparing it to census information on income, household composition, and ethnic composition. This will help them recommend certain neighborhoods that would be amenable to a new neighborhood watch program.
“The major analytical problem in trying to figure out the effectiveness is that the neighborhoods that are probably most interested in neighborhood watch programs are the ones who are experiencing increasing or high rates of crime, so they’re interested in neighborhood watch programs,” Stone says. “It would be very easy to find that neighborhood watch programs cause crime, but that’s not what’s happening.”
After Stone’s class identifies specific attributes, planners will take the information and create a way to design and implement the program to assist Medford partners Police Chief Tim George, who helps train volunteers, Cultural liaison coordinator, Lilia Caballero who works as a cultural liaison, and Community Service Officer, Todd Sales who is the liaison between the neighborhood watch programs and the police and works to educate the public on crime prevention strategies.
“Medford is experiencing a continual growth in Hispanic population,” Sales says. “However, we do not have Hispanic residents who have shown much interest in Neighborhood Watch, or partnering with MPD to fight crime in their neighborhoods. This study might assist with this concern.”
Caballero is working alongside Sales to increase the number of neighborhood watch programs particularly within Latino communities. While diversity in Medford increases, it is important to initiate neighborhood watch programs in these communities to help with the large number of underreported crimes.
“We definitely need to increase our numbers,” she says. “I don’t think we even have one to be honest. People don’t know they exist.”
Many residents in the Latino community call Caballero when they see something suspicious or they experience a crime because she speaks the language. However, she only works 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. If someone leaves a message Saturday, the situation won’t be addressed until Monday. The neighborhood watch program teaches volunteers to effectively and efficiently report a crime to the police.
Caballero has begun mentioning the program to the people who have called her several times.
“I know I have at least two people in mind that are interested because they fear for the stuff they leave outside, or sometimes they forget to lock their cars,” she says. “It’s things that the program makes you more conscious about, do the best you can to protect your own personal items.”
The research from both classes and the outreach from Sales and Caballero are combining to create and develop an efficient way to spread and expand the neighborhood watch program. Chief George began expanding the neighborhood watch program three years ago. Since then, the numbers have grown. In 2012, 11 new groups were added and in 2013, 13 new groups were added.
“I want to increase numbers because I think it helps everybody,” says Caballero. “It helps the police. They’ll call us when a crime is occurring, instead of us finding out hours later or a couple days later. There will be a better chance of catching the person doing the crime.”