BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – After nearly four years of activity, three neighborhood watch groups in Fort Madison met Sunday to talk about the progress of the effort to help curb crime in their neighborhoods.
In November 2014, Steve Howard and Lorie Seager were instrumental in putting together the 34th Place Neighborhood Watch Group, one of the first watch groups the city has had in decades after residents tired of petty crimes in their areas.
Soon after, the Dry Creek Neighborhood Watch Group and the Lincoln Neighborhood Watch groups formed to keep an eye on the riff-raff going in and out of their neighborhoods.
Jeff Smith of the Dry Creek group led the discussion on what issues are facing the group and one of the first things mentioned was getting signage posted in the neighborhoods to let residents – and criminals – know the groups are up, running, and active.
Smith said because the signs are typically posted on city property, the city has to install the signs, Seager said when 34th Place purchased their neighborhood watch signs the city had them in place very quickly.
Smith said several members of those groups had spoken with city officials about the signs, which have been purchased and are ready for installation. He said city officials have indicated that right now potholes and street maintenance are a high priority and the signs may have to take a back seat. Several members of the group agreed to keep trying to reach out to the city at different levels to try and get the posts and signs installed.
Two of the signs will be posted on Lincoln Elementary fencing to show the children, parents, neighbors, and criminals that they are being watched.
The group also talked about fundraising efforts, which help offset operational costs and equipment purchases.
Howard said the 34th Place watch group has been taking cans to a redemption center in Mt. Pleasant. With redemption centers in Fort Madison closed down, groceries are once again taking cans but on a limited basis. He said when his watch group takes cans to Mt. Pleasant it usually yields about $120 for the group and they go once or twice a month.
The 34th Place group has done fundraisers to replace the flags at Solidier’s Circle in Oakland Cemetery, and announced Sunday that they will be awarding two $800 scholarships to a student from Fort Madison High School and a student from Holy Trinity Catholic High School.
The group is also holding other grassroots fundraisers like garage sales to purchase things like radios, flashlights, and reflective vests.
Howard said the funds are important to keep things moving.
“When we first started this, we wanted nothing to do with the money – nothing. But then, a few of us kept throwing money into it and said, ‘We can’t keep doing this’ so we started looking at ways to raise funds,” Howard said.
He invited the other groups to travel with them to Mt. Pleasant to redeem the cans and share the costs of the trip.
The group also decided to look into the possibility of getting an information booth at Riverfest in August. The festival, which runs Aug. 3-6 is featuring 80s, 90s, and current rock this year, along with local favorites and a country act on Sunday. The watch groups want to set up an information booth to let people know what is happening with the group, and more importantly, how they can get a watch group going in their neighborhood. A committee was set up to look into getting the booth.
Howard said he’s had a couple people approach him about creating a watch group, but no plans have become concrete as of yet.
The three groups meet independently monthly and then get together on a quarterly basis for a potluck to look at the effects of the groups on crime.
Smith said one stat that stands out to him was that 66 vehicles were stolen in Fort Madison in the past year.
“That just boggled my mind,” Smith said. “But what’s crazy is that all 66 were stolen with the doors unlocked and the keys inside.”
The group agreed to meet again in August.