Block Watch Promotes Safe Neighborhoods

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Looking out for one another is the concept behind the Block Watch program. The Payson Police Department is encouraging neighborhoods to get a program started or become active again if they have lapsed.

"Neighbors have actually helped us catch burglars," Block Watch Coordinator and Payson Police Officer Mike Varga said. "We train people to look for suspicious activities."

Varga said that Payson currently has about one patrol officer for every 1,500 people.

"Payson usually only has between two and four patrol officers working at one time for the entire time and at times, one patrol officer relying on a sergeant for backup," Varga said. "Needless to say, we can't be everywhere at once and the program can become our eyes and ears."

The Block Watch program can be organized by a group of neighbors or an entire subdivision homeowners association, Varga said.

"It's for anyone who wants to get something started and get their neighbors involved," Varga said. "They can contact me and I will set up a time to teach the core curriculum."

The initial presentation takes two to three hours and covers how to identify suspicious behavior and how to improve security.

"A group will appoint a Block Watch captain who will be the point person and organize the meetings," Varga said. "After we do the core curriculum, we can cover whatever topics the people want if they want to do more. If all they want is the basics, the signs and the stickers, then that's fine -- I leave it up to the participants"

Varga said if a program wants more education, the next topic is usually illegal drugs.

"If one of the narcotics detectives are available, I can bring them in for another meeting," Varga said. "Everything is absolutely free to the neighborhoods that participate. The only cost is their time."

Varga has started four programs so far in Payson.

"Since I have become coordinator, Block Watch programs have been started in the South Thomas Road area, Elk Ridge subdivision, Trailwood West and Payson Park Pines," Varga said.

Jo Freeman and her husband are Block Watch captains in the Elk Ridge subdivision.

"We moved here a year ago from California and we were block captains," Freeman said. "We were burglarized three times in the same house. When we moved here, we immediately wanted to set up a block watch program and we volunteered to be block captains."

Freeman has been disappointed by her neighbor's disinterest in getting involved.

"We sent around a questionnaire in our association newsletter and asked people what their concerns were," Freeman said. "Out of 95 lots, we have received one reply."

Freeman said she worries that her neighbors are being complacent.

"Until it happens, people think it will never happen to them," she said. "It may take something unfortunate to get neighbors interested."

Town councilor Judy Buettner and her husband Jim said they are very happy about the program where they live in Trailwood.

"We encouraged the homeowners at our HOA meeting to go with the program, and they were all agreeable," Buettner said. "We don't have captains, but we are all on alert."

Buettner said the program allows people to get to know their neighbors.

"A lot of us walk in the neighborhood," she said, "and we keep our eyes open as we do. We watch each other's homes and animals when someone is on vacation and bring in their papers and mail. Block Watch fosters a more community-like feeling."

For more information about starting a Block Watch program in your neighborhood, e-mail mvarga@ci.payson.az.us or call (928) 474-5242, ext. 427.

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