As property crimes increase, more neighbors are on patrol
Armed with cellphones, flashlights, and Twitter posts, they can make a positive difference.
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And though Twitter alarms and other tech-savvy warning systems can sometimes ratchet up the perception of crime rates, they're also being used effectively: An Atlanta break-in captured by home cameras and then put up on YouTube helped police catch several suspects last month.Skip to next paragraph
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"Just by the nature of crime trends in the metropolitan environment and this financial environment, it's difficult to put the resources on the street that we may have had in the 1980s," says Cudahy Police Chief Tom Poellot. "Police can't do this alone."
Citizen awareness is part of the foundation of modern policing, born when 19th century London bobbies used whistles to call in civilian backup.
But community fear has in the past turned to violence in a country where vigilantism has sometimes flourished.
The Nation magazine recently reported that after hurricane Katrina, vigilantes killed several black men for simply walking through a neighborhood. Several registered sex offenders have also been killed. Citizen patrols became a controversy in New Haven, Conn., in 2007 when the Edgewood Park Defense Patrol included some armed with licensed firearms.
"If it's largely white citizen groups trying to protect new turf, you run the risk of creating flash points," says Stan Stojkovic, dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "But to me, this is a much different kind of situation. There's hope in this kind of thing, as long as it evolves into ... a form of integration."
The power of "Hey!"
That's what Lewis Cartee is careful to address with the more gung-ho members of his block patrol group in East Atlanta, known as Safe Atlanta for Everyone (SAFE). He calls the group "a glorified neighborhood watch" where he uses Google maps to chart out "beats" for some 40 residents. He says he stresses what he calls "the power of 'Hey.'"
"You've got to go meet people, because the guy down the street you're suspicious of could be a good guy, and you run the risk of putting that guy off," says Mr. Cartee. "No way do you want that patrol being seen as us versus them."
Done inclusively, neighborhood patrols can be a powerful deterrent, says Rufus Terrill, an Atlanta mayoral candidate.
"Bad guys don't like to be seen doing things," says Mr. Terrill. "They don't want people's eyes on them. They fear that as much as a gun."
In Cudahy, it took Litkowiec and his band of civilian crime fighters a mere three weeks to effectively deter the garage robbers in the Rosewood neighborhood.
"We basically figured we should be able to outsmart some common thieves," says Litkowiec, who last week was handily elected to the city council on an anti-crime platform.