PINEBELT, MS (WDAM) - For several months, WDAM has reported on the issue of a shortage of law enforcement sweeping communities across the Pinebelt. This has left many residents uneasy but our Quametra Wilborn found out not everyone is deciding to stand back. Some are stepping up and taking watch.
“Every community has flaws in it and it’s getting rough,” says Moselle Neighborhood Watch group president Luther Donald. “It’s getting rough everywhere.”
Across the Pinebelt, people are deciding that they no longer want to be victims in their own community.
“We’re driving up and down the road and we’re watching just looking at everybody’s house just saying hey is everything peaceful?” says Richton neighborhood watch member Joshua Garvin. “Making sure nobody’s prowling around and making sure [anybody’s not] suppose to be there.”
Signs of neighborhood watch programs can be found in every neighborhood, on every street, and around every corner, but are they useful and is anyone really watching?
WDAM decided to take to the road to find out. The first stop was Lamar County where Chief Deputy Brad Weathers with the Lamar County Sheriff’s department says they have over 20 watch groups across the county. He says it makes a difference when you have to cover a county 500 square miles large with over 60,000 residents.
“There’s no way we can be in neighborhoods as much as we like to,” says Weathers. “So, having an extra set of eyes to report on suspicious activity is very important.”
Neighborhood watch groups are operated under the supervision of their local law enforcement office as a middle man between law enforcement and the community to pass along information on suspicious activity.
Weathers says he strongly discourages groups from approaching anyone they feel may be a threat. He says the groups job is to just watch. He says no one knows a community better than someone who lives there.
“Even if I’m driving in your neighborhood and somebody’s in your yard that doesn’t belong and they wave, I’m probably going to wave back because I don’t know who belongs in your neighborhood and who doesn’t,” says Weathers.
The next stop was to Richton in Perry County to meet with a watch group that the Perry County Sheriff’s Department says is already making a difference.
“But the bottom line is if we spot something and we think we need to call the police, we’re going to call them,” says neighborhood watch member Lowell Odom.
Odom says he has lived in his community for years and can name every person who lives in their community. The group says that they also make sure to let every person who comes into their neighborhood uninvited to know their being watched with signs placed on every street.
“It’s a good thing not to know who’s watching at any particular time,” says Garvin. “That’s why it’s a good community watch.”
The final stop took us to Moselle in Jones County where WDAM sat in on a watch meeting. Donald says the group of over 50 people meet once a month with a deputy from the Sheriff’s department to not only discuss crime in the area but community events.
“We’re not bashful not at all,” says Donald. “We want find out what’s going on and try to keep a good hand on everything.”
The Sheriff’s department says keeping this open dialogue between community and law enforcement helps to build the community.
A Jones County Sheriff’s Department deputy told the group during the meeting that their efforts have assisted the department greatly.
“A lot of them are calls ya’ll put out for us,” says the deputy. “Ya’ll call us and say someone’s walking down this road and he’s wearing this, this, and this and It doesn’t look like he’s suppose to be here.”
Donald says his group is given training from the department on how to properly identify a suspicious suspect and what to do moving forward.
However, both Richton and Moselle groups say the goal is to ultimately look out for each other.
“We just want our community to prosper and be safe and that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Donald.
If you would like to start a neighborhood watch in your community, you can contact your local law enforcement agency.