The Neighborhood Watch program organized for the central city of Monett on Seventh Street held its first meeting in many months on Friday. Participants reported value in the watch program despite concerns raised over the process.
The Neighborhood Watch effort for Seventh Street was started in the spring of 2009 by Athene and Richard Switzer, who live at Seventh and Cale. Their watch area concentrates on the area from Fifth to Ninth streets between Broadway and Cleveland.
The Switzers called the meeting last week, noting the summer weather had encouraged more outdoor activity than had been seen during the winter, raising new concerns.
At a meeting last summer, Police Officer Alvin Zabala has reported a significant decrease in property-related crimes since the watch began. Athene Switzer said there had been an upswing in problems since the last snow storm. Two of the neighbors cited renewed graffiti tagging on the city water reservoir between Sixth and Seventh streets and on some buildings in the alleys.
A neighbor who has not been part of the effort voiced his concern over what the group was doing. A longtime resident and Monett native, he said behaving like a neighbor when those near him have problems would address the issues raised by the group. He did not want to see groups of people targeted as undesirables.
The Switzers generally agreed with their critic but saw greater value in what they do. Athene Switzer recalled how she felt compelled to begin a wider effort when individuals were stealing things out of her yard and the day when her 5-year-old son found an intoxicated man passed out on their sidewalk.
Police are called regularly when problems are discovered. Richard Switzer recounted how they were able to help officers find a subject who was fleeing from officers one night.
"If you see something, we're asking you to make a report," Richard Switzer said. "That gives officers one more reason to be in the neighborhood."
"We will write a report for you if you come to us," Athene Switzer said.
Some people will not call police for fear of retaliation, the Switzers said. Other sources of concern include apartment complexes that have frequent tenant turnover and questionable activity, like drinking in the front yard.
The Switzers and others present said they have a sense of the normal ebb and flow of activity in the neighborhood. They watch for people who are out of place at odd hours. Athene Switzer said she would not hesitate to confront someone who was stealing property.
"Ninety-five percent of people confronted in a yard will drop it and run," Richard Switzer said.
The critical neighbor said such situations should be left to the police.
Officer Don Massengill, who often works in the neighborhood, said he saw value in what the group does. He reported that after a recent incident in the apartments at Sixth and Cale, which are a trouble spot of late, he expected to see "a different attitude" by the occupants.
Massengill asked that suspicious activity be reported to the police department. Officers have a standing policy of asking for identification from anyone who is out walking after midnight. The curfew for teens is 11 p.m. during the school year and midnight on weekends. Massengill said Missouri law directs that anyone asked for identification must produce it.
"You'd be surprised at how many warrant arrests we get that way," Massengill said. "We stop them from doing anything worse."
Massengill asked observers to look for little things, like people who are out wearing a hoodie in the summer months, or staying in the shadows or the corners of buildings. The attitude of a subject can reflect intent.
"If you confront somebody, call us first," Massengill said. "We'll be on the way. If things are out of place, call. We will answer. We never reveal the source of a call. We don't know who belongs where all the time. You do."
The Switzers said they will continue to hold watch meetings at least quarterly. They welcomed any questions about the program and invited anyone with concerns to drop by their home at 310 Seventh St.