BY MAGGIE BEAMGUARD, Insider Editor
Moore County Sheriff’s deputy Monique DiLorenzo, who regularly works the Seven Lakes area, led a community meeting in June about relaunching a Neighborhood Watch program.
The talk at the West Side Community Center, sponsored by the Seven Lakes West Safety and Security Committee, drew more than 30 residents. They joined a conversation already being had by neighbors in Seven Lakes North and South.
A Neighborhood Watch program is a way for communities to serve as a proverbial “eyes and ears” of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time, so it really helps when we have your feedback and you guys calling in. We can handle things a lot more efficiently that way,” said DiLorenzo.
She issued an invitation for all Seven Lakes communities to join around 10 to 12 other watches across the county. The implementation of any Neighborhood Watch program is in the hands of each community.
Formats vary, but the general way this kind of program works is for a central point of contact to be established for communication with the Sheriff’s Department. When things are going on in various parts of the county, the department can disseminate information to that person and information can flow to everyone who is part of the group and vice versa. Having one person deal with the flow of information eliminates a lot of back-and-forth conversations and emails.
Establishing that contact person is the first step for any neighborhood-wide program to work. DiLorenzo said what they like to do after that is encourage the groups to set up a Facebook page or other form of contact just for the community watch, since it often deals with sensitive information.
People are sometimes hesitant to get involved when they observe a suspicious person or vehicle, so a Watch program allows the Sheriff’s Department to help make the determination if something is going on.
“That’s where we need your help getting information going so that we can address the problems you guys are having in the community,” DiLorenzo said.
She invited those present to circle where they lived on a map and to put an “X” on any known problem areas. By sharing this information within a Neighborhood Watch, issues can be corroborated and passed on to the deputies so they are aware and hit those problem areas more efficiently.
Dilorenzo shared anecdotal observations of the kinds of complaints from Seven Lakes residents. Those include speeding, juvenile misbehavior, property crimes and failure to observe gate etiquette and rules. But those incidents are far lower than in more accessible ungated communities.
“It’s all at a bare minimum inside the gates. At different times you’ll get a wave of vehicle break-ins or larcenies, but because Seven Lakes is gated, it’s not as much as what other communities experience,” she said.
The structure of such a group is up to each community. Seven Lakes West resident and West End Fire and Rescue Department Chief Erik Stromberg took charge of the SLW Safety and Security Committee in November.
Since the informational meeting, the committee, which is under the purview of the SLWLA board of directors, met and has sent a recommendation to the board to endorse moving forward with building out a framework for what a Neighborhood Watch would look like.
“It’s a formality, but we need to make sure they endorse it and that they make sure we’re following our own rules, regulations and bylaws,” said Stromberg.
“I want to make sure we can be successful,” he said. “Because if we say we are interested, but nobody steps up and says they want to serve on it, then we’ve failed. So if we keep it small and grow into it can be a much better situation.”
Seven Lakes North and South have already given their revived efforts a name: Seven Lakes North and South National Neighborhood Watch Program. Community member Gail Summers has stepped up to lead it. She was motivated by the frustration and increase in complaints on Facebook regarding vandalism, speeders and kids in golf carts bothering walkers, among other concerns.
Unable to attend the informational meeting, she asked “Hey, what happened to the Neighborhood Watch Program?”
Only appointed to the position on June 8, Summers is forging ahead. In a statement to the Seven Lakes Insider, she wrote: “I have already registered our community with the National Neighborhood Watch Program (NNWP), which was approved on June 14th; have established a separate email account from which I am currently writing, have a dedicated cell number (910) 975-2329.”
They will work closely with the new Seven Lakes North and South security provider, Professional Security and Investigation (PSI), coordinating suspicious activity sightings with the Guard House and Roving Patrol.
Training classes on topics such as “When do you call 911?,” “What exactly is suspicious activity?” and “Is there anything I can do to deter vandalism/burglary?” will be held each month at the North clubhouse (10-11 a.m. or 7-8 p.m.)
Other plans include an effort to invite people, particularly the elderly, single, disabled and infirmed to participate in a check-in app. Participants pick a daily “check-in” time which, if missed after two reminders, prompts a check-in visit from Block Buddies or the Roving Patrol.
Summers is also working on “Operation Identification,” a program to prevent theft and burglary by permanently marking and registering valuable property, usually with a N.C. driver’s license number. The deterrent also makes it easier to report and identify stolen property.
Summers knows the success of these efforts will depend on the involvement of the community and she sees this as more than just crime prevention but a way for the community to watch out for each other.
“I can not impress enough that all criminal activity, whether an immediate emergency or not, is to be called to 911, where dispatch will code it for urgency,” Summers said. “Too many people believe 911 is only for immediate emergencies. However, as with the Neighborhood Watch, a report needs to be filed on all criminal activity so information can be passed along, and can be statistically collated for patterns in areas and activity.”
North and Southside residents with an interest in joining the NNWP as an active member should contact Summers on the dedicated phone number.
Contact Maggie Beamguard at firstname.lastname@example.org.