Fresno City and County Neighborhood Watch Associations Expand Their Role by Lending a Helping Hand
You can't get much more central than Fresno . Nestled in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Fresno is a mid-sized city of nearly a half million residents. A growing metropolis surrounded by miles of parkland, rolling foothills, and fertile valleys, the city has become the economic and cultural hub of what is today the top-producing agricultural region in America.
Urban and suburban growth, meshed with regional topography, have created unique challenges for Fresno-area law enforcement agencies. In addition to dealing with traditional public safety and crime-related issues such as reckless driving and vandalism, police officers and sheriff's deputies must be prepared to assist the community during a wide range of potential emergency scenarios. The dry climate makes Fresno County —which is bordered by three national parks—particularly vulnerable to forest fires. This past June, a bolt of lightning sparked a 100-acre vegetation fire in the Sierra National Forest . Some 200 firefighters had to be dispatched to contain the blaze before it could threaten nearby residents. Potential for disaster also exists due to Fresno 's proximity to the Long Valley caldera, an active volcanic zone that is closely monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey. Fresno 's law enforcement community has stepped up efforts to ensure the community is prepared for such natural disasters, as well as for manmade events such as terrorist attacks, through ongoing education and training
As the role of law enforcement has evolved in central California , so has the role of Neighborhood Watch. Within the city of Fresno and throughout Fresno County , Neighborhood Watch volunteers are focused both on developing effective crime prevention programs and on cultivating partnerships with first responders and disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross and AmeriCorps. The opportunity for Neighborhood Watch leaders, law enforcement, and local emergency responders to cross-train and engage in open dialogue has benefited the entire community. Highlighted below are examples of successful joint projects spearheaded by the Fresno Neighborhood Watch community of volunteers.
Fresno Neighborhood Watch: A Brief Introduction
The city of Fresno is divided into five police districts: Central, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest. Each district has its own Neighborhood Watch association, which is assigned a community service officer (CSO) who acts as a liaison to the City of Fresno Police Department. Uniting the five groups is the Fresno Police and Neighborhood Watch Association (FPNWA), a 501(c)(3) organization.
At the helm of the FPNWA is Roselyn “Roz” Clark, a 42-year resident of Fresno . Clark and her husband, Fred (an FPNWA board member), have been involved in Neighborhood Watch since the 1970s, when the area surrounding an apartment complex they owned and managed began experiencing a crime wave. In addition to their Neighborhood Watch responsibilities, the Clarks volunteer with the Fresno Department of Public Works, the Red Cross, and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Roz also has served as the Fresno Kiwanis Club president and as a member of the Fresno Police Chief Advisory Board.
Esprit de Corps
Often called the “eyes and ears” of law enforcement, National Neighborhood Watch has evolved into a multifaceted organization with an expanding role in emergency preparedness. Most notably, the program now partners with Citizen Corps and AmeriCorps (USA Freedom Corps organizations created after the September 11 terrorist attacks to help coordinate volunteer activities that make America's communities safer and better prepared to respond to threats of crime, terrorism, and natural and manmade disasters). Other Citizen Corps partners include CERT, Fire Corps, Medical Reserve Corps, and Volunteers in Police Service.
In the city of Fresno , the FPNWA and the police department's five district CSOs work closely with Citizen Corps and AmeriCorps. Organizational representatives regularly attend FPNWA meetings, participate in events such as National Night Out, and encourage Neighborhood Watch members to get involved in CERT. Roz and Fred Clark as well as several Neighborhood Watch block captains and volunteers have received CERT instruction, which teaches participants how to stabilize their neighborhood following a catastrophic event. “Trainees learn basic skills such as how to assess immediate needs and perform medical triage during chaotic situations,” Clark explained. “These individuals will become the first lines of defense within their communities during emergencies.”
Last year, Fresno 's disaster preparedness and Neighborhood Watch associations also joined forces with California Volunteers and a local fire department to co-host a two-day Neighborhood Watch Toolkit train-the-trainer program. Representatives from dozens of local law enforcement agencies took part in this event, which Carla Glazebrook, executive director of Fresno Citizen Corps, deemed a success: “ I think hallmark of our area is the great communication we have with both law enforcement and other key community stakeholder groups.”
Several Neighborhood Watch members have put their emergency preparedness and response training to the test while providing needed assistance to relief organizations both at home and away. Recently, for example, Clark traveled to Louisiana with a team of fellow Red Cross volunteers to assist Hurricane Katrina victims. “Our hats change when we go into disaster areas. We man shelters, cook, and deliver food and supplies,” she said.
City Neighborhood Watch members also support local disaster preparedness with various fundraising campaigns. “We raise funds for canines and mounted patrols and for the DARE (Life Skills) program,” noted Clark . “My goal has been to make sure Neighborhood Watch is twofold. We worry not just about our neighborhoods, but also about our community and our country.”
Give Me a Sign
Signage is an integral part of the Neighborhood Watch concept. Block captains routinely cite instances of would-be criminals casing their neighborhoods but driving away frustrated after an encounter with Boris the Burglar® (shown here). Prominently displayed signage lets wrong-doers know, in no uncertain terms, that they are being watched and will be apprehended and prosecuted.
The City of Fresno Public Works Department formerly was responsible for purchasing and installing Neighborhood Watch signs. A few years ago, however, budget constraints, coupled by increased labor costs, forced the city to turn this program over to the FPNWA. The city offered the association a grant to purchase materials, and, in turn, the association volunteered to supply the labor required to install new and replacement signs.
Despite creating an additional responsibility for group members, the new signage program has, according to Clark , “worked out beautifully.” Timely upkeep has instilled community pride and helps to deter offenders by spreading the message that the Fresno community is serious about crime prevention. New signs are coated in Mylar, which is easily wiped cleaning, thereby reducing replacement costs. In addition to helping cut overhead costs, volunteers enjoy the opportunity to interact with their counterparts from the five district Neighborhood Watch groups. “We meet with a lot of neighbors all throughout the city of Fresno and on the fringes of the county,” explained Clark . “We know some of the problems that exist in these areas, as well as some of the positive things that are happening there.”
The Writing on the Wall
Often glamorized in popular youth culture, graffiti is a perpetual problem in cities everywhere—and has been for millennia! Archaeologists excavating the ruins of ancient Pompeii discovered many colorful messages scribbled throughout the city—from the mundane “Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera” to the contemplative “Once you are dead, you are nothing”!
Today, graffiti “artists” fall into several categories. Many are bored or rebellious teenagers looking for kicks, some are “wannabes” seeking to emulate the gang lifestyle, while others are actual gang members bent on doing harm. In the 1980s, FPNWA started Neighbors Against Graffiti (NAG) as part of a collaborative effort with the city to clean up graffiti. Contending that graffiti was a crime, NAG successfully convinced the Fresno Council of Human Development to transfer prevention and cleanup responsibilities to the Fresno Police Department. The chief of police contracted with a graffiti removal firm and later acquired its own vehicle, which is dispatched seven days a week to paint over graffiti.
With the administrative help of Neighborhood Watch, the Fresno Police Department has shifted focus to prevention and enforcement. During a crackdown this past April, officers targeted tagging groups in an anti-graffiti operation aimed at ending gang rivalries and made 10 felony arrests. The department also has developed an ongoing program to photograph and investigate graffiti for gang tie-ins. As part of a youth outreach program, Fresno police officers visit local schools to dissuade young people from propagating graffiti and to explain the consequences of being caught. According to Clark , the city police department and Neighborhood Watch together have nearly eradicated graffiti: “It's an excellent program of intervention, prevention, and apprehension.”
The FPNWA is augmenting local law enforcement's anti-gang efforts through a program titled Developing a Partnership for a Safer Community. Partnering with area schools, the police department, and neighborhood leaders, the association hosts an annual conference that unites 500 to 600 attendees from the fields of law enforcement and justice, education, and business in a series of workshops by gang prevention and intervention experts. Last year's featured speaker was a former gang member who gave insight into gang culture and explained how she was able to escape the lifestyle.
Weed and Seed
“No one should have control of a neighborhood except its neighbors,” Clark repeatedly stresses during speaking events. Thanks to a five-year, million-dollar U.S. Department of Justice grant, Fresno city law enforcement and FPNWA leaders have established a program aimed at eliminating crime in an area of central Fresno that has long been plagued by high unemployment and crime. “We will be joining together with the Fresno Police Department and Police Activities league, local drug enforcement agencies, and faith-based organizations to improve community services,” Clark explained.
The “weed” component of the two-part program will involve city law enforcement push to locate and apprehend the criminal element that frequents the targeted neighborhood. Afterward, Neighborhood Watch and its partners will “sow the seeds of change” by working with residents to improve community safety and organize new Neighborhood Watch groups
Clark brings first-hand experience to this effort. Until last year, residents in a part of Fresno dubiously nicknamed the “Dog Pound,” lived in fear. Once a quiet community of 4,000 long-time residents, most of whom were homeowners, the neighborhood deteriorated as gangs and drug dealers took over. In response, FPNWA and the city council joined the Fresno Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life program to organize a community cleanup and two block parties. Asked via survey to select a new name for their neighborhood, residents chose “Brookhaven.” FPNWA funded the purchase of new “Welcome to Brookhaven” signage, which were installed during a public ceremony last summer.
The “dogs” chased away, Brookhaven is once again a place residents can be proud to call home. According to Clark , a sense of pride and empowerment have taken over in an area once ruled by fear and intimidation: “Our chief mission was to help people in this area to change things. A number of residents now come to Neighborhood Watch meetings and work with us. This is very, very encouraging.”
www.fresnocitizencorps.org (Fresno Citizen Corps)
www.fresno.gov/Government/DepartmentDirectory/Police/EmploymentandVolunteerService/NeighborhoodWatch.htm (City of Fresno Neighborhood Watch Program )
www.fresnosheriff.org (Fresno County Sheriff's Department) (click on “Community” to find the Neighborhood Watch link)
The Cable Guy
Innovative Partnership Broadens Fresno County Neighborhood Watch Coverage
The city of Fresno covers only a small swath of Fresno County , which encompasses more than 6,000 square miles (with over 400 sworn deputies and staff,). The Fresno County Sheriff's Department relies on the vigilance of the county Neighborhood Watch program. Community activist and small-business owner Marilyn Kelarjian has served as president of the Fresno County Sheriffs' Department Neighborhood Watch for the past three years. Although a separate organization, the Fresno County Sheriff's Department Neighborhood Watch Association regularly participates in meetings and special events hosted by its city counterpart.
Even with an estimated 650 Watch groups scattered throughout the county, crime prevention is challenging due to Fresno County 's size. Formerly a professional fundraiser, Kelarjian appealed to local businesses for support. In addition to providing financial assistance and “stacks and stacks of signs,” local cable provider Comcast agreed to supplement the organization's crime prevention efforts. Each day, while making service calls, the cable company's 200 drivers now scan county neighborhoods for suspicious activity. “Comcast has joined our mobile watch unit,” explained Kelarjian. “They've received observation skills training based on the NSA Toolkit and have become the eyes and ears of the sheriff's department.”