BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Three local groups keeping an eye out for crime in their neighborhoods are looking to build their volunteer network in Fort Madison.
A group formed out on the city’s west side is looking to expand their efforts, not only through their territory but across the city.
Lorie Seager and Steve Howard of The 34th place Neighborhood Watch group have created a highly motivated group of neighbors connected by radios, phone trees, and a passion for helping keep crime out of their neighborhoods, as well as keeping neighbors safe.
The group was formed in November 2014 and since that time has helped birth two other Fort Madison watch groups, the Dry Creek Watch Group and the Lincoln Neighborhood Watch group.
But Howard said the three groups aren’t enough and having support from city and school district officials would help the program flourish and create more eyeballs watching for crimes of opportunity.
“We’d like to see a little more support from city officials and maybe school officials,” Howard said. “We’re just not sure what that support looks like yet.”
Jeff Smith, one of the founding members of the Dry Creek group, agreed. Smith said the Dry Creek group started with a bang having an immediate impact on crimes that were occurring because garage doors were being left open, cars unlocked, or other scenarios where criminal activity can take place.
But he said recently it’s been about eight or nine people who are carrying most of the load. He said he’s not sure what it will take to get more people involved.
“I really can’t attribute it to anything. We’ve been looking for about a year now and I would just hate to think it would take another crime spree to shake people up, but we need some help,” he said.
Smith said the Fort Madison police are spread very thin doing an impossible job and to ask for more support seems on the surface to be a big ask.
At the Lincoln group’s organizational meeting last year, at least three officers were on hand, basically with a see-something, say-something mentality. It’s not a big ask, but that’s precisely what these groups are trying to do. That meeting held at the Hillside was packed because people were tired of the riff raff creeping around in the shadows and looking for opportunities to steal or damage.
Seager said police are doing a better job of keeping the watch groups informed of things to look for and that needs to continue. But she said the group’s focus isn’t just on crime.
“We’ve mobilized on several occasions to help locate missing children in the area. Sometimes they’re just over at a friend’s house and that’s good, but we’ve combed these fields at night looking for kids that have been reported missing.
Howard said the neighborhood also had an autistic child missing and the group was able to mobilize in a matter of minutes. The child was found before the group had to go on a search.
“But five minutes after I grabbed this radio, we were in front of the house here ready to go. It’s just something else that we do.”
Smith said the Dry Creek group also had an immediate impact on small crimes in the area.
“We had success immediately with car and garage break-ins,” Smith said. “That got put to a stop in a hurry. but there are fewer members of us and we need help keeping and building this program. Not just here but across the city. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea but we need more to step up and we need help with that. I think we’re closing in on two years now and I would love to see some support from the city, but I’m not sure what support that would be. We get a pat on the back which is good, but I’d like to see some more.”
Smith said when they started the program they went through the whole neighborhood and handed out flyers. He said anyone who’s interested in helping with his watch group can call him directly at 371-8109.
The 34th Place group is holding their next meeting on March 17th at 611 34th Place and a speaker from the Lee County Task Force will be on hand with information and for questions from the group. Seager said all neighbors in the watch area are welcome to attend the meeting, but are asked to bring a perishable food item for the Fort Madison Food Pantry. The meeting will start at 1 p.m.
Seager and Howard have both offered to help anyone interested in getting another neighborhood watch group formed. Howard can be reached at 319-217-0640 and Seager can reached at 319-470-9376.