According to news archives, residents there organized in response to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese after apparently becoming outraged over reports that as many as a dozen witnesses did nothing — or very little — to assist the victim or to aid in apprehending her attacker.
As with any new organization that is designed, and coordinated, by volunteers the isolated movement faced countless struggles. In spite of its noble intent, its growth grew sluggish and eventually faced dormancy. But a short time later help arrived, bringing with it organization, accountability, clout and professionals.
It happened in 1972 when the National Sheriffs’ Association hopped aboard the cause and began a concerted effort to strengthen, and spread, this “watch group” strategy nationwide.
The movement grew as partnerships were formed in cities across the American stage between concerned neighborhoods and local law enforcement agencies. But obviously, any neighborhood watch program is only as strong as its members are involved.
Locally, the subject surfaced in our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown recently when Lt. Bob Hancock, who coordinates the neighborhood watch program for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, spoke to a weekly morning breakfast of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club. His insight was published in a front-page article in Monday’s edition of this newspaper.
The longtime law officer’s thoughts were both eye-opening and to some degree alarming. That’s because currently in Bradley County, very little neighborhood watch activity is taking place.
First, as theorized by Hancock, it’s a matter of time commitment and volunteerism.
In some neighborhoods, volunteers are concerned that organizing a watch program will require them to spend more time at home in order to assure that community activities are being monitored — especially anything construed as suspicious or out of the ordinary — and that neighbors’ homes are being safeguarded by the soundest of methods ... visual oversight.
In the hustle and bustle of today’s rushed society in which most households have two income earners, it is increasingly difficult to find extra downtime for home. This equates to less available opportunity for volunteers in spite of their willingness.
Second, and this is the most recent and compelling foe, neighborhood watch programs have taken a jolt from public scrutiny following the tragedy in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012, involving the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. As news followers already know, Sanford resident George Zimmerman — who claimed to be the neighborhood watch coordinator — was charged with the teenager’s murder. Zimmerman, whose self-defense claim was supported by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, was tried in the second degree and for manslaughter, and later acquitted on all counts.
The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating the case as a possible racial hate crime. Martin was black. Zimmerman is mixed-race Hispanic.
Other cases are also documented where neighborhood watch volunteers are thought to have crossed the line of accountability, though not with the kind of international exposure received by the Sanford tragedy.
Such consequences should not be allowed to distract from the good of neighborhood watch programs.
Truly, it is sad to hear that in Bradley County involvement appears to be waning. Such disinterest is coming at a bad time. Area law enforcement leaders agree that higher crime could be headed for our community with the recent crackdown on gang activity in neighboring Chattanooga’s inner city.
We urge subdivisions and neighbors in Cleveland and Bradley County to renew their interest in local crime watch programs. Such campaigns don’t mean volunteers will be asked to chase down, tackle and apprehend suspected criminals, nor does it require the toting of firearms. It means what the name says — watching.
It means watching for anything out of the ordinary.
It means watching in the absence of vacationing neighbors.
It means watching for potential burglars, vandals or anyone who could be scouring a street for future targets.
It means watching for emergencies — fires, flooding and even damaging, and deadly, tornadoes like those that ravaged Bradley County on April 27, 2011, and March 2, 2012.
It means watching. And if necessary, it means calling 911 and alerting professional law enforcement agencies. It’s not about carrying a loaded handgun. It’s about accountability by making a phone call that could prevent a crime.
Those interested in launching a neighborhood watch program should contact Hancock at 728-7321 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email is prefered for record-keeping purposes.
Popular animated icon “McGruff the Crime Dog” used to encourage law-abiding citizens to help “... take a bite out of crime.”
Such urgency is no less true today.