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Night out against neighborhood crime

An Aug. 2 rain shower brought National Night Out: America’s Night Out Against Crime indoors, as neighborhoods throughout El Paso County hosted block parties and barbecues in recognition of police and community member efforts to detour crime in neighborhoods nationwide.About 10 block parties in the county occurred during the evening, with other events scheduled for the following Sunday.National Night Out is a year-long community-building campaign started by The National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit crime prevention organization. According to NNO, in 2010, 37 million people participated nationwide; the 2011 count is expected to exceed that number.Liz Dreher, crime prevention coordinator for the El Paso County Sheriff’s office and a former citizens’ patrol volunteer, trains neighborhood watch groups.”It takes a community to keep the community safe,” Dreher said.”Neighborhood watches are very important. It gives people more of a feeling of being in control when something bad happens.”The county has about 75 established watch groups, including 13 watches in Falcon, Cimarron Hills, Security, Widefield, Village Seven and Black Forest.”Out east the houses are farther apart and people don’t think of doing a watch group,” Dreher said. “We are getting back to the way things used to be. We have become very insular, and establishing neighborhood watches are in response to criminal conduct.”Theft, gang activity and graffiti are three examples of criminal activity that can plague neighborhoods.Tom Berens is the Woodmen Hills Neighborhood Watch program chairman, and he has participated in the NNO watch for six years. He said the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the Falcon Fire Protection District have supported two NNO celebrations in Berens’ neighborhood.Berens said neighborhood watch programs are well-worth the small amount of time required. “It is like volunteer organizations – people need to be motivated,” he said.”So many of us live on a block where we don’t even know each other. The more spread out you are the more difficult but at the same token, a rural community can use the camaraderie.”Training is essential for watch programs. Participants learn whom to call when an incident occurs, how not to be victims and how to be an effective witness, among other things.Training and materials like signs and window stickers are supported through fundraisers. On Aug. 27, the Sky Sox hosted a Neighborhood Watch Night Out, with part of the proceeds going to countywide watch groups.Berens cited an incident in Woodmen Hills as an example of the benefits of the watch program and proper training for the participants.When a magazine seller approached Berens’ neighbor at 9 p.m., his neighbor notified the sheriff’s department and started the neighborhood phone tree. Within minutes, home lights were turned on.”We keep an eye out for things that are out of place,” Berens said. “We don’t have a lot of crime compared to El Paso County. We have a low (crime rate) right now.”

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