Sunday, July 26, 2009

Report from Neighborhood Watch Training

As you may have read here previously, CH is getting a neighborhood watch program. Here's a firsthand account from our friend Fieldsy who attended block captain training:

Monday night, I attended the Columbia Heights Bock Captain precinct captain training at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church with about 30 other CH residents. Organized by NW Columbia Heights Community Association President, Cecilia Jones, the aim of the program is to establish a block by block neighborhood watch program implemented and managed by the block captain (or co-captains, which I would recommend since the program requires a lot of organizing and responsibility). Cecilia stated that "Today, marks the end of street violence in Columbia Heights." With the shootings and stabbings over the past several months as well as auto and property related crimes--it is certainly an ambitious and much needed effort to bring the community together in order to reduce crime. Inspector Jacob Kishter as well as two DCPD officers who patrol the neighborhood and Tivoli North Business Association President Hector Gomez and 2 ANC commissioners were in attendance. While it was great to see community leaders in attendance, I was disappointed in the small turn out from residents.

The training was conducted by a woman who has implemented the program in her Chevy Chase neighborhood. That fact drew a comment by a fellow participant of whether she could understand the major obstacles we face in Columbia Heights to apply this program because of the different demographics and types of crime we face here. I, too, will admit that I have my reservations of whether this program can work. First, the block captain is responsible for gathering information about all their neighbors - like phone numbers, number of inhabitants, if anyone in the house has disabilities - and after compiling contact information about residents, organize a block meeting to discuss concerns about the block. Once the meeting is held the block captain leads the charge to forward crime alerts and crime reduction techniques. Basically, it's connecting an information network in the neighborhood so that neighbors are aware of what is going on and what steps to take to reduce crime.

Sounds easy enough, but with DC being such a transient and career driven city, it seems it will take some time to not only organize your block but also get buy-in from neighbors. With that said -I do think it has great potential to bring the neighborhood residents closer together and increase personal investment in our community since it is the model is very community organizing driven. We cannot only depend on our community leaders or elected officials to curb the problems facing our neighborhood, each of us must be actively involved to solve the problems. I have lived in and out Columbia Heights for the last 6 years (leaving only to work on political campaigns) and have only recently taken the time to get to really know my ANC commissioner, introduce myself to the majority of neighbors and get involved in neighborhood issues despite my love for The Heights.

The training itself was very weak, but the more I have though about it, the more I am warming up to the idea. It is going to take massive outreach to get captains on each block, but if we all come together this program could take off. I certainly plan to try to use this opportunity to get to know my neighbors better, hopefully implement a yearly block party, and show other neighborhoods why The Heights is the best place in the city.

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