Ten city block watches now have the phones to make calling 911 easier.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A week ago, the CPR Block Watch managed to summon police within minutes to a barrage of gunfire, despite scurrying for a phone to do it.
Eight months ago, block watch members patrolling their South Side neighborhood got police out in time to catch a suspicious person in the act despite the same communication limitation, said Ray George, CPR president.
Today, his block watch and nine others can simply push a button on a cell phone to reach 911.
The Mayor's Task Force on Crime and Violence Prevention handed out 10 of the phones Friday to block watch leaders. The phones, donated by Alltel, are programmed to dial only 911.
Current methods: Some block watch members on neighborhood patrols use their own cell phones, but many others don't have them. So volunteers relay suspicious activity or the need for police by using CB radios, walkie-talkies, stopping at a neighbor's home or going back to their own house to make the call.
"This will be a beginning," said Katrina Love of the Fosterville Block Watch.
She has volunteers walking or driving the neighborhood three or four times a week. Usually, they go home to make calls, she said.
John Kish, captain of the S.I.D. Block Watch, said he hopes his volunteers never have to use the new phone. It will, however, help his members who travel the neighborhood every night of the week. Stopping to find a phone or using a CB is terribly inconvenient, he said.
If a CB is used, one person on the street has a radio and must call into a second volunteer -- the base -- who then calls police on a land line. Getting multiple volunteers isn't easy, George said.
"It's always tough to get someone on base," he said.
Idea: The Rev. Alfred Coward, task force chairman, got the cell-phone idea at a conference about four months ago.
Preventing crime is the task force's core mission, so arranging for the phones was only natural, he said.
The task force is happy to help block watches any way it can, he said. Citizen involvement through block watch groups is the type of effort that can change neighborhoods, the Rev. Mr. Coward said.
"We want them out to observe," he said. "You can turn your block around."