The Neighborhood Watch effort is concentrated in the center city and has been active for the past year. Athene and Richard Switzer, who live at Seventh and Cale, have spearheaded the program with volunteers meeting every two or three months.
A main focus of Friday's meeting was to talk about the resumption of school. Athene Switzer observed traffic through heavily populated neighborhoods seldom travels at 25 miles per hour.
"At 40, you can't stop if a child runs in front of you," Switzer said. "The neighborhood has a lot of blind spots in it. Drivers need to ask, 'Is it really worth it?' If you hit a person, you can't change that."
Switzer said the problem is compounded by children who generally do not look before walking into the street. Switzer attributed a lack of precaution to inadequate or lax parental supervision.
The main concern for watch organizers has been property damage and roaming youth with no neighborhood roots creating an intimidating atmosphere. After a year of observation and working closely with police, problems have decreased.
Officer Alvin Zabala, who was assigned to the Neighborhood Watch effort, has made regular visits to meetings. At Friday's meeting he shared the latest crime statistics. The total crime index for Monett had dropped from 365 a year ago to 199. Zabala attributed much of the drop to the efforts of Neighborhood Watch volunteers.
Specific instances showed property crimes, larceny thefts and burglaries were all down by 44 percent. Aggravated assaults and violent crimes were down by over 75 percent. Total assaults were down by 20 percent. The value of property lost due to theft has dropped in one year from $99,107 to $27,188.
Zabala said he is just as likely to be called to a problem in another part of town as in the center city, a distinct reversal of the concentrated scenario seen earlier.
"There's no downside to neighbors watching out for each other," Switzer said. "Alvin said he'd like to see the program go citywide."
When Switzer went to the Monett City Council a year ago seeking authorization to organize a Neighborhood Watch, she said she wanted to see people back out on their porches and residents walking in their neighborhoods. Both have been occurring, she said.
"Now the kids we see are neighborhood kids," she said. "The kids who come around know this is a safe area, and we're not going to tolerate problems."
"The kids wave to us. They know we're watching them," Richard Switzer said. "We know their parents, and we will go to them. We've had incidents of bullying. We've approached them and told them this will stop, and it has."
Zabala said volunteers will often get more results by talking to the parents rather than going to police. Richard Switzer said they have found going to parents respectfully, pointing out problems, has helped.
The volunteers asked if other parts of town are safe, particularly going to South Park. Zabala, who often goes running early in the day, said the only major concern at the park he's seen is running into skunks. More people are out walking and getting exercise, he said.
A recurring concern voiced to the group has been what to do about rundown properties, particularly rental houses that are not kept up and thus impact property values. Richard Switzer said property maintenance is beyond is scope of the Neighborhood Watch. Specific complaints need to be filed with the city.
"Props go to the Police Department," Athene Switzer said. "They have really worked with us on a lot of smaller stuff that would be normally brushed off. They've really stepped up for us."
Switzer also commended St. Lawrence Catholic Church for allowing the church basement to be used for meetings. She was pleased observations from neighbors had helped police arrest youth breaking into the church early in the formation of the Neighborhood Watch.
Residents in other parts of town are welcome to attend meetings of the Neighborhood Watch or drop by the Switzers' home at 310 Seventh St. for information on how to organize watches elsewhere in town.