My brother’s keeper

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2005

If this week is any indication, then Sheriff Edward Webb’s &uot;Most Wanted&uot; program is going to be a success in Gates County.

And, if this week’s heinous crime involving a 73-year old man and his wife as victims are an indication of the future, then Most Wanted has come none to soon to the county.

Webb and his deputies, almost the entire crew, were involved in the apprehension and capture of the suspects involved in the home invasion in which the couple was robbed at knifepoint. Still, we must look at the facts; this type of crime has left the big city (read that Suffolk) and come to Gates County and it has become a part of our formerly peaceful, country-style lives.

Gone are the days when we could leave doors unlocked because if someone came by, it was a friend or neighbor, or at least not someone intent on mayhem. Gone are the days when neighbors depended upon each other to look after their properties. Even the days of baking cakes and pies for our neighbors, especially if someone was ill or a death occurred in the family, are long gone.

I don’t like this new way of life one bit. I liked being my neighbor’s neighbor. I enjoyed talking with neighbors about who has the biggest tomato or some tasty new recipe and sometimes we talked about what was on sale where.

Now, I am blessed to have wonderful, caring and protective neighbors – our daughter and my mother-in-law, and a couple of neighbors, the Rev. Stanley Wiggins and his wife, Mary.

At least our four households are watchful of each other’s homes and yards. When any of us see a stranger, walking or in a vehicle, we alert the others. Not all neighbors are as fortunate as we are, however.

That’s where it pays to know the options the Gates County’s Sheriff’s Office has for people who want to protect themselves and their families. For one, you can obtain pamphlets to educate yourself about ways to avoid becoming a victim.

Sheriff Webb also has a program that he and his deputies are happy to share with anyone who is interested in becoming part of a neighborhood of &uot;lookouts.&uot;

Engaging members of the community to volunteer time is at the very heart of the &uot;Neighborhood Watch&uot; program. While getting an entire neighborhood to participate is no easy task, the results are well worth the effort. The goal of the program is to protect neighborhoods from crime, and we as neighbors, can help each other do exactly that.

I have seen the program work. As a reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald, I watched as neighborhoods across the city picked up the banner and put up the &uot;Crime Watch&uot; signs.

For instance, one of the older neighborhoods, Kingsborough, was a sedate and stately area until vagrants began invading vacant homes and empty sheds. The neighbors were reporting vandalized vehicles, petit larcenies, and assaults on the elderly residents of the area were escalating.

Enough is enough for anyone and residents of Kingsborough finally got smart and called the Community Outreach Unit of Suffolk Police Department. The officers immediately organized a Neighborhood Watch group meeting and they came armed with plenty of information. They advised the residents of how to begin, how the Watch works, how the &uot;phone tree&uot; works and how to get the big, bright signs that announce to the world, &uot;This area is protected by a Neighborhood Crime Watch.&uot;

Sheriff Ed Webb is also prepared to do the same for residents of Gates County including those in Sunbury, Gatesville, Hobbsville, Gates, Corapeake and any other interested neighborhood. Webb and his deputies are a part of the National Sheriffs’ Association, the founder of the UOW/Neighborhood Watch program. The Association serves as the primary contact, and oversees the program.

If you are truly interested in learning how to begin a Neighborhood Watch, all you need to do is form a small planning group of neighbors to discuss the needs of your community and determine the level of interest and potential problems. You can then decide on a date and place for an initial Neighborhood Watch meeting.

As filled with civic groups as Gates County is, it may even be feasible for clubs like Rotary, Ruritan or Masons, or some of the county’s 55 churches to organize meetings. All that is left is to contact the sheriff’s office at 357-0210, to notify them of your interest in starting a Neighborhood Watch.

Sheriff Webb will assign a crime prevention officer who will attend your first meeting. It is that simple, and it is something that could save you what the very fortunate couple in the home invasion experienced.