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Neighbors give back through watch program

By Staff | Jul 1, 2011

Through group interaction and action, Shepherdstown’s neighborhood watch allows community members to prevent and report crime in town.

Watch coordinator Clyde Kernek, New Street resident, said the purpose of the neighborhood watch is to observe and report crime. Neighborhood watch members are encouraged to report suspicious activities to the police and each other.

K9 Cpl. J. Cummings of the Shepherdstown Police Department has overseen the neighborhood watch program in Shepherdstown since he joined the force over two years ago.

According to Cummings, Shepherdstown’s neighborhood watch has been active for at least five years and currently has six members with two more looking to join soon. All members of the neighborhood watch are volunteers.

Kernek said there are currently five blocks in Shepherdstown with designated block captains – the 100 and 200 W. New Street blocks, the 100 and 200 W. German Street blocks and the 100 W. Washington Street block.

Kernek said there is a lack of interest in the block-watch system due to the fact that Shepherdstown is a low-crime area. One of the issues the neighborhood watch is facing is how to change the way it operates.

Kernek would like to see the neighborhood watch revamped into a system that educates the public on issues like contacting the police, home security and suspect descriptions.

“We’re thinking rather than a block watch having a town watch,” Kernek said. “The town watch could be organized through a series of articles, so you’re educating all of the citizens on how to be alert for crime, how to contact the police and how to describe what happened.”

“It’s definitely beneficial to the community,” Cummings said of the program. “You get prevention of crimes and less crime occurring because criminals realize that people are watching what’s going on and will alert law enforcement.”

Cummings said that people may not expect much criminal activity to happen in Shepherdstown because it is not a big city. But he said that the town brings in tourists and visitors, so anything is possible.

“Anything can happen, especially in these times. There’s a lot more crime throughout the whole nation. Even small towns and small communities are getting hit hard,” he said.

Another problem in Shepherdstown is crime that fluctuates with the seasons, Cummings said.

He said there is a correlation between warm weather bringing people outdoors in the summer and a rise in the number of crimes that happen during that time of year.

“In the dead of winter, you’re probably not going to have people out vandalizing signs because it’s too cold,” Cummings said. “In the summertime and spring, it’s nicer out so people are hanging outside more often. A lot more crimes are happening outside.”

Dabney Chapman, a block captain for the 100 block of New Street, gave advice as to how homeowners can prevent break-ins.

“It’s important to have good locks on your doors, and there are metal inserts you can get to make it difficult for breakers and enterers to jimmy your windows,” Chapman said. “Ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house when you’re away.”

Cummings advised town residents with information for the neighborhood watch to call 911.

“Never be afraid to call 911 for anything. Even if you feel it’s not important, it may be important. It is a direct line to us. That’s why it’s there,” he said.

Suspicious activities can also be reported to the police department.

Cummings said the neighborhood watch is a great asset to the community, and the police officers in Shepherdstown hope for more community participation.

The sense of unity and cooperation in the Shepherdstown community extends the duties of the neighborhood watch to members and non-members alike.

“We do have a great source of people in the community that do stay in contact with us,” Cummings said, “that ultimately is the same thing as the neighborhood watch.”

Chapman echoed Cummings’ idea and said that town residents should observe not only their own property but keep an eye on their neighbors’ property.

Cummings added, “If something happens on High Street, within 15 or 20 minutes people on New Street already know about it. It’s the same way with us. We get good information from people.”

If you would like to learn more about neighborhood watch, call 304-876-6036.