BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – In just four years the city’s neighborhood watch program has grown to four groups with possibly two more in the near future.
The groups held a Community Neighborhood Watch meeting on Sunday at Hill Side Inn with representatives from Dry Creek Neighborhood Watch, Lincoln Neighborhood Watch, 34th Place Neighborhood Watch, and Northeast 16 Neighborhood Watch groups present.
It’s been more than a year since the groups all got together for a group meeting.
“We’ve been so busy organizing the citywide events, plus what’s going on in our lives and our own groups, and trying to help start other groups, we just haven’t had time,” said host Larry Lee Stewart, a founder of the Lincoln group.
The newest group encompasses from 2nd Street to 8th Street and from Avenue C to Avenue G.
“This is an ambitious group. I thought Lincoln was wholly smokes huge, but when we did a count there were more than 250 residences in that group,” Stewart said.
Steve Howard, a member with the 34th Neighborhood group, said there is a group interested in starting in the Fareway neighborhood. There is also a group on Avenue K that has been in place for a while, but hasn’t joined the community neighborhood groups.
Howard asked Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff if he was aware of the group and if there was a way to get the groups to work together.
Rohloff said the community groups are a testament to people who have pride in their community.
“Everbody realizes and understands that the police department has limitations. We’re not there everywhere all the time,” Rohloff said.
He said typically the department has three officers on the road per shift, while last year the police more than 13,600 calls for service, or about 13 per day.
“We spend a lot of time running from call to call which doesn’t allow us a lot of time for crime prevention… being proactive. That’s where you guys come in,” Rohloff said.
He said watch groups calling in with what they are seeing helps the police be more responsive and deal with issues more effectively.
Rohloff said he puts out rubber snakes to keep critters and birds out of his garden.
“Be a snake, be out there and being visible in your neighborhood really helps deter crime. They know they are going to be watched, and police will be called.”
He said people prone to criminal activity can be driven from the community because of the “snakes” in the garden.
Rohloff said he investigated the city as far as crime rates, and said the city is in the 87th percentile nationwide and said most of the crimes were property crimes.
He said the impact is loss, including insurance rates, livability, and the way the community feels about itself.
“The only way to drive that down is through the cooperative effort between the community and law enforcement to make sure that is addressed properly and that’s something we want to see happen.”
He said it will take everyone’s involvement to help get the job done and crime rate down.
The network is considering holding an all-group Christmas party this year and is also considering sponsoring a city park as part of their give back to the community.