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Local

Neighborhood watch groups hit the streets

In an effort to combat crime residents patrol Newton on their own

When Heather Fox and her husband Jeff moved to Newton from the east side of Des Moines friends warned them about the town’s unsavory reputation. After helping create a neighborhood watch group in Des Moines, Fox was surprised to find out a similar group didn’t exist in Newton. While she’ll readily admit there’s a criminal element in Newton, she’s confident that by banding together, neighbors can make Newton a tough place to break the law.

“Here it’s not so bad, I believe we can handle it,” Fox said.

There are more 1,300 members on the Newton Neighborhood Watch Facebook page, and Fox said that’s something she’s really proud of, hoping the additional eyes and ears in the community will discourage criminals. On the Facebook page, neighbors network with one another to report suspicious activity and keep one another apprised of crimes they encounter.

“I’m not going to sit in my house and be afraid,” Fox said. “The more nosy neighbors we have, the more it works.”

Creating the Facebook page isn’t the only action Fox has taken to cut down on crime in Newton, she’s also begun patrolling the neighborhood with her husband Jeff, looking for suspicious activity. On Saturday, Fox and her husband met with concerned neighbors to host a Neighborhood Watch Walk in Newton. Jay Durant, who organized the group and maintains a gmail address at nwpatrol@gmail.com, said he’s concerned about his hometown. In the past five years, Durant said he’s seen crime pick up tremendously in Newton, which he attributes to drug use. While he’s happy with the efforts the police department has made to fight crime in Newton, Durant said he believes they need some help.

“Well, the police department, they’re wonderful, but they can’t be everywhere,” Durant said. “The community has to help the police department or we’ll never get this town back.”

To make Newton safer, Durant has been patrolling the town, often up to five nights a week or more. The lifelong Newtonian said his volunteer organization already has a number of neighbors willing to help, as well as residents asking him to patrol their property. For each of the 12 properties Durant patrols, he’s looking for any sign of a crime, and he said he won’t hesitate to confront someone if he believes they’re trespassing.

“As long as I have the homeowner’s permission I will confront them,” Durant said.

The self-employed subcontractor is well outfitted for his mission, carrying a flashlight, a handgun and a pair of night vision binoculars. Durant said he doesn’t feel scared to walk the streets of Newton at night, the gun he carries gives him confidence.

“Personally, I don’t worry because I personally carry,” Durant said.

While Durant does carry a gun, he said his first inclination is to involve the police department, dialing the non-emergency number if he sees something he wants to report. He uses a police scanner app on his phone to monitor radio traffic, and if he hears something is going on, he’ll head to scene to see if there’s any way that he can assist the police department. Durant also said the group is selective about the volunteers they accept, running a background check and a license check on everyone who’s interested in becoming part of the neighborhood watch group. Police officers have been supportive of his efforts, Durant said.

“We’ve been in contact, they’ve been supportive of all of it,” Durant said. “We work closely with them.”

The biggest difference between the police department and Durant’s organization is all of the people who patrol Newton with Durant are unpaid volunteers. Durant said volunteers provide their own gas for their vehicles, and carry their own equipment, although he said he’s willing to accept donations if people want to support his organization. While the patrol schedules vary, Durant said criminals should be on the lookout.

“We all have radio communication, and every night there’s somebody out,” Durant said.

Lt. Wayne Winchell, who works the night shift for the Newton Police Department said the department is supportive of any efforts to make Newton a better place to live. He addressed the group on Saturday and answered questions about security. Winchell said there have been a number of break-ins reported over the summer and early fall in Newton, but many of those occurred when thieves were able to take advantage of unlocked vehicles and garages. Adding lights to the exterior of homes and making sure cars and homes are locked will help reduce some of these burglaries Winchell said.

“A very high percentage of car burglaries were unlocked vehicles,” Winchell said. “Lighting helps tremendously.”

Winchell said he doesn’t believe Newton has a crime problem, but did say officers stay busy, although he noted many of the calls they respond to aren’t crimes, but other situations where an officer is needed to assist. As long as neighborhood watch volunteers aren’t getting in the way of police officers, Winchell said doesn’t have many concerns about the group.

“If the goal is to patrol and report then it wouldn’t be an issue that I can see,” Winchell said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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