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Tackling crime

August 19, 2011

In the wake of an armed robbery that shocked a south Newton neighborhood, an area pastor is trying to make sure similar crimes are prevented in the future.

"We are starting a neighborhood watch on Tuesday night," said Holy Cross Lutheran Pastor Rev. Paul Fitzpatrick. "We are starting out with the idea of building awareness that if (an armed robbery) can happen to one of our neighbors, it can happen to any of them. This is not just an 'it always happens to someone else' type of problem."

Newton Police Chief Don Brown said a community watch program can be positive for a neighborhood. Already, the city is home to several community watch groups, including those in neighborhoods around the Historic District, North Caldwell and South Caldwell avenues as well as Sandalwood Court Apartments.

"It is basically the community coming together and working together," Brown said. "It is basically about education and getting people involved and giving them a sense of ownership of their community."

That is what Fitzpatrick said he hopes to achieve, especially after a man and his girlfriend were robbed at gunpoint while they were taking an evening stroll along South Main Avenue on Aug. 3. The incident happened at the corner of Holy Cross' church property. That crime occurred just a few blocks away from an apartment where three men broke in and strangled a 73-year-old female resident before stealing guns from the residence in late June

"The initial reaction was shock," Fitzpatrick said. "People have been saying, 'How can this happen here. This is a very good neighborhood.'"

"It is a good neighborhood and we have a lot of young kids, a lot of walkers and a lot of people that spend time with one another," he continued. "Something like that happening caught everyone off guard."

By organizing a community watch program, Fitzpatrick said he hopes residents can work to prevent similar crimes in the future.

"I want people to make sure they are keeping an eye on their home as well as their neighbors," he said. "At least we can make it uncomfortable for those who might want to take advantage of older people that are living in their homes. I want the neighbors themselves to take advantage of this opportunity to keep a watch on one of the good neighborhoods in Newton."

During Thursday's Soldiers Reunion parade, which passed through the neighborhoods lining South Main and South College avenues, Fitzpatrick invited friends and neighbors to the planned community watch program launch Tuesday.

"We are going to send some letters out to everyone on South Main, South College, West Herman and the other side streets," he said. "We are meeting at 7 p.m. to try to get a community watch going so we can make sure the same thing doesn't happen anymore in this neighborhood."

Newton Police Department's Master Officer Carolyn Deal will participate in Tuesday's meeting. Brown said NPD doesn't usually take "ownership" of the community watch groups, but does work to help establish them where they are sought.

"They run their own meeting," he said. "We get them started and they take it over and keep it going."

Officers, he said, can attend meetings and provide information on how to spot or report a crime.

"Officers can come and give them advice on how to secure their homes or what to look for when reporting a crime," he said. "A lot of it is about educating them"

He also said it is hard to measure the impact a community watch can have on deterring crime, but it does help raise awareness.

"We get more calls from those folks letting us know when something is going on," he said. "When we may not be in the area, an officer may respond to a call and that may help deter crime."

Fitzpatrick said plans for the watch group and its efforts are a work in progress. Ideas being discussed already are a phone tree, where residents can notify neighbors of suspicious activity, he said.

"Maybe it is just the possibility of making sure the police stay informed about what is going on in the neighborhood," he said. "Or if we can keep a few extra lights on, that might deter someone from taking advantage of somebody taking a walk. ... We want to see if we can just raise our own awareness. We have got to raise our own awareness.

We have got to take care of one another."

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