Block watch members say efforts pay off big

Even if you can't patrol, be a window watcher, a block watch president urges.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Block watch participants and other South Siders have varying perceptions about whether crime has increased or decreased in their neighborhoods, but they agree that block watches are an effective crime and nuisance reduction tool.
John Nittoli, president of the Buckeye Eyes and Ears Block Watch and former 7th Ward councilman, said he feels safer now than a year ago in his neighborhood and he thinks crime has declined there "because of the alertness of the block watch members."
"Our problems right now are just minor, maybe once in a while vandalism or something, but nothing major, no shootings, no drugs. We've had everything pretty well cleaned out. In the summertime, we have a little bit of noisy rowdiness once in a while, nothing real serious," he said.
What works: A strategy for reducing crime and nuisances in the future is persistence in making sure offending households are notified of problems, such as incessantly barking dogs or juveniles engaged in acts of vandalism, he said. Police are already doing a good job of that, he said.
"I've seen a lot of results in the neighborhood. Vandalism has gone way down. We used to have stolen cars dumped on our parking lot on a regular basis, and I haven't seen one for at least two years," said the Rev. Craig Wade, associate pastor of Word of Grace Church on Mount Vernon Avenue, where the block watch meets.
The Rev. Mr. Wade, who used to live on Mount Vernon Avenue and now lives in Columbiana, said he feels safer now than a year ago at the church and thinks crime in the area has decreased due to the block watch, which he said was instrumental in watching and getting police to close drug houses.
"People have taken an active role. ... they have done a very good job," he said.
One woman chased away youthful vandals who were throwing rocks at the church windows last year, he said. Boom boxes and speeders are the biggest problems there today, he said.
Parental failure: "I think it's getting worse in our area," said Deb Housel of Campbell Street, president of the Gibson Heights Block Watch, which meets monthly at Gibson Heights Presbyterian Church.
A major problem there is parents who fail to enforce limits for their children's behavior, she said.
"They're destructive. They break windows, throw stones and sticks," she said of some neighborhood children.
"We need more people to join the block watches. That's very important. Even if you can't patrol, be a window watcher. We've got to keep together. We've got to look out for our neighbors," she said.
"It's not just fighting crime. It's more. You get to know your neighbors," through block watch participation, she added.
"I feel just as safe as I ever have," said Shirley O'Hara of Lynn Avenue, who doesn't belong to an organized block watch, but looks out for her neighborhood and wishes others would.
"I only have a few places that I know of where things are going on, and as soon as I do, I make contact with somebody and it gets taken care of," she said.
Major problems there are prowlers from other areas looking for burglary or auto theft targets, she said.

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