Every time someone moves onto Gary Greenlee’s street in Lakeshore Estates, he stops by to tell them about Neighborhood Watch.
A block captain and board member with the crime prevention organization, Greenlee keeps his finger on the pulse of the neighborhood and fulfills the primary objective of his job. It’s what board president Richard Poelling calls “selling Neighborhood Watch.”
“I stay in contact with my neighbors and keep them aware of the organization,” Greenlee said.
Selling Neighborhood Watch was one of many pieces of advice passed on during a Thursday night training session for Neighborhood Watch captains.
Poelling told those in attendance that block captains should keep neighbors up to speed on the efforts of the organization and to serve as liaisons between their neighbors and police. Block captains are appointed by the members of individual Neighborhood Watch groups.
“It’s the captains that will get the job done,” Poelling said.
Columbia police officer Michael Hayes, who trains new neighborhood watch members, said the Thursday meeting was the first of its kind. While training sessions for block captains have been held in the past, Thursday marked the first effort to bring all 300 captains together. Around 50 captains attended.
“This is a more in-depth training for all of our captains,” Hayes said.
The training, part of a larger effort to recruit new members to Neighborhood Watch and to make the organization more effective, came a month before the first of eight revitalization meetings intended to drive home the principles of the group and boost enthusiasm.
“Columbia is on the cutting edge in terms of its push to train and inform people,” Greenlee said.
Poelling hopes the campaign will inspire residents like Nancy Roberts who belong to Neighborhood Watch but perhaps aren’t as active as they could be.
Roberts, a block captain in the Green Meadows area, has some training under her belt but conceded she’s never been very involved with Neighborhood Watch. She decided to recommit herself after an incident last week, when a couple approached her as she went to her mailbox. They claimed to have made a wrong turn from a nearby gas station and asked for help.
“You can’t turn out of a gas station and get lost where I live,” Roberts said.
While nothing came of the episode, Roberts said it worried her and prompted her to become more involved in Neighborhood Watch. “I’d like to try and achieve the 51 percent participation required for the group,” Roberts said.
Since it began in 1975, Columbia’s Neighborhood Watch has seen a 66 percent decline in burglaries. In the past four years, the number of burglaries dropped from 594 to 432, and the number of larcenies from 2,923 to 2,798. Recent lapses in membership and activity by individual Neighborhood Watch groups, however, stirred the revitalization effort.