BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s been in the works for a couple of months now, but Sunday evening kicked off the first full neighborhood meeting of the Lincoln Neighborhood Watch.
Spurred by recent rashes of burglaries, stolen property, and an assault, the neighbors of Avenues D and E from 12th Street to 15th Street will now be watching their own.
Partnering with the 34th Place Neighborhood Watch group for guidance and support, about 30 homeowners from the area met Sunday night at the Hillside Inn to listen to stories of criminal activity and hear from two captains from the Fort Madison Police Department.
Gary and Cindy Steflik, the coordinators of the effort said they have met several times with concerned homeowners and the players with the 34th Place group.
“We went door to door and got phone numbers and emails,” Gary Steflik said. “We’ve been seeing lots of burglaries, vehicles and bicycles being stolen, doors kicked in on garages. We even had one lady assaulted carrying her groceries from her garage to her house. She was beaten pretty bad and couldn’t identify the ones who did it.”
So the Stefliks started working with a core group of people including Bob Morawitz, Beverly Gobble, Steve and Kathy McCracken and others to define the parameters of how the group would function.
Fort Madison Police captains, Bruce Gustafson and Jamie Carle were at the meeting and are homeowners in the watch area.
“Believe it or not, we have at a minimum, two guys on shift overnight,” said Gustafson. “There are some nights we may have as many as four if we can get a full shift. These groups are important. I want to thank the 34th Place group for their work. This group is at the top of the class.”
Gustafson said the best thing that people can do is to make sure their belonging are locked up and secure.
“Very rarely do we find a vehicle that’s been broken into that had the windows smashed in. These are crimes of opportunity…I hate to say this in here, but sometimes you just can’t fix stupid,” Gustafson.
Carle told the group that just because they see a couple of teens walking down the street doesn’t mean those teens are causing trouble. But if the groups see something suspicious they should make a call to the police.
The Lincoln group will be taking their cues at the start from the 34th place group, who has been in existence for close to three years.
Steve Howard, who is a founding member of the 34th place group, said the first couple years was tough for them as they figured out what their role would be and how to go about doing it. But he said the Lincoln group will benefit because his group is there to help them through that initial phase.
“We’re here for you and we aren’t going anywhere,” he said.
Lee Stewart, another volunteer with the group, said this is the path to regaining our community.
“I personally want to know each and every one of you here because if you remember, that’s what community used to be. There’s a lot of you that don’t know me and I don’t know you, but that ends today,” he said, and then everyone in the room introduced themselves.
FMPD neighborhood watch’s liaison and the department’s liaison with the Fort Madison School district, officer Brent Gibbs, told the group that things like curfews won’t have an impact as a lot of the crimes are being committed at 3 and 4 in the morning, way past any curfew the city could set and despite most of the crimes being crimes of opportunity, all residents must be aware.
“What we’re dealing with here mostly is juvenile delinquency,” Gibbs said. “I have anxiety every morning that the guys are going to come to me and ask who’s running with what crowd and who might have been involved with what.”
Gibbs said that recently the department has had three reports of stolen firearms and only one has been recovered.
“All of those were taken from unlocked vehicles,” Gibbs said.
Cindy Steflik asked those in attendance to volunteer as block captains for the groups as she said that will be group’s next step in the process. The group will meet as a whole once a month, but captains will meet every couple of weeks while the new group gets acclimated to how the group will work.
The group will work out the details of signage, vests, communications and patrols in the next several meetings.