Thursday, July 18, 2013
Ceci Schrock does not arm herself with a gun and patrol the streets of Sherwood Oaks in her role as a volunteer for her neighborhood watch program.
Instead, she fields emails and questions from concerned neighbors and passes that information along to Bloomington Police Lt. Scott Oldham.
Recently, a neighbor emailed Schrock to report hearing the sound of people rummaging through recycling bins at 3 a.m.
She emailed that information to Oldham, who said he’d look into it.
“I definitely don’t patrol my neighborhood or anything like that,” the mother of two said. “I’m just forwarding things that neighbors are wondering about.”
The roles of neighborhood watches came into sharp public focus after George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain of a gated Sanford, Fla., community was acquitted Saturday in the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.
Bloomington has its own neighborhood watches — ones that rely on communication between the public and police, who discourage roving patrols of volunteers.
Schrock, who works in media relations for Indiana University, has lived in the Sherwood Oaks neighborhood for four years. A few months ago, she decided she wanted to become more involved with her neighborhood association, become better acquainted with her neighbors and help build a sense of community.
Knowing your neighbors and instilling a sense of community belonging are the cornerstones of Bloomington’s neighborhood watch programs, Oldham said.
“Get to know your neighbor. From that, grows the safety,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“We don’t encourage them to go out. The building block is to know your neighbor. What I need is people paying attention. If you see something, you need to call us. And we’ll take care of business,” he continued.
Oldham has served as the Bloomington Police Department’s neighborhood watch liaison since 2001. The Old Northeast Downtown, Highpoint and McDoel Gardens neighborhoods were among the first to show interest in establishing neighborhood watch programs.
Some neighborhood watch programs have come and gone over the years. Some have only been active for six months at a time. Other core neighborhoods have had watches from the very beginning.
Now, an estimated 20 neighborhoods and community groups have watch programs. Some of those groups, however, only contact Oldham once or twice a year.
Oldham and Vicki Provine, a program manager with the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development, attend neighborhood association meetings and provide information about watch programs. Other members of the city’s police force and HAND attend the meetings, as needed.
Once a new watch group is established, Oldham gives his email address to one or two volunteer neighborhood liaisons. They can contact him about anything, from concerns about speeding cars to help answering questions for a child’s homework assignment.
The police will use a neighborhood watch as a means to check on someone who is recovering from surgery, to investigate possible drug activity or to inspect the unfamiliar car that’s been parked a few days.
Some weeks, Oldham will receive four or five emails or phone calls. Other weeks, he’ll get as few as two or as many as 30.
The neighborhood watch groups also give police a chance to meet the people they serve, and, has grown into a method of communication between the public and various city departments.
Still, Oldham makes it perfectly clear: Bloomington police do not encourage volunteers to go on roving patrols.
“Anything that makes you scared for your personal safety immediately, that becomes a 911 call,” Oldham said. “If it is something that is an annoyance, a quality of life issue, a question, that’s a neighborhood watch issue.”