Dozens of Waveland's residents on Wednesday attended the Waveland Police Department's inaugural Neighborhood Watch meeting.
Harley Caughlin with Waveland PD is the area coordinator for the program and the law enforcement liaison.
Caughlin gave residents a brief overview of the components of a neighborhood watch program.
One of the basic components of a neighborhood watch is organization, which includes the area coordinator and block captains, Caughlin said.
A block is considered to be about eight to ten houses on one street, she added.
The block captain would be responsible for gathering residents' contact information, distributing information, insuring incidents are reported to 911 and the phone chain, and recruiting new residents to join the watch program.
Communication also includes attending meetings, which the police department plans to host on a monthly basis, Waveland Police Mike Prendergast said.
Caughlin said that the department also plans to install neighborhood watch signs in areas that are participating in the program.
Caughlin said that neighborhood watch provides "crime prevention strategies to make crime difficult in neighborhoods."
"Crime watch happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said. "You're at your homes more than we are. You know what's going on in your neighborhood. You can pay special attention to vacationing neighbors, latch-key children, abandoned buildings, and areas where adolescents gather."
Caughlin said that neighborhood watch programs also create a better sense of security and a reduction in the fear of crime, because "you know that you and your neighbor are looking out for each other."
The program also teaches residents how to observe and report suspicious activity to the authorities, and keeps residents abreast of crime trends she said.
Caughlin also spoke of ways to protect the family and home such as installing security systems, keeping unattended doors and windows locked, keeping trees and shrubs trimmed, and giving emergency numbers to trusted neighbors.
Caughlin said that neighborhood watch participants are responsible for learning who their neighbors are, attending watch meetings, teaching children to respect the law and crime prevention techniques, reporting crimes to police. However, she said, they should not get involved in crimes or try to stop them.
"Neighborhood watch members must report suspicious activity based on facts, be unbiased, and not report people as suspicious just because of ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, race, or disabilities," Caughlin said.
She also told the crowd to learn how to provide a detailed description of the suspect and vehicles.
Caughlin said that most people have a different view on what they consider suspicious.
"Ask yourself, 'what are they doing that's suspicious?''' she said. "Is this really something that needs to be reported or can it be just a little odd? It's okay to be wrong. If you think something's suspicious and you call dispatch or 911 and it's not, that's okay. If it's suspicious enough to you to warrant a call, call. That's what we're here for."
Caughlin also mentioned some key things to look for when describing a vehicle to authorities, including: License numbers, state, make, model, year, color, and the number of people in the vehicle.
When observing suspects, Caughlin said, "you want to pick the clear things that stand out," such as clothing color, hair, sex, race, height, age, tattoos.
Caughlin said that residents should also be aware of suspicious activity such as a stranger entering a neighbor's home or garage; a beam from a flashlight in a neighbor's home, especially if they are out of town; the sound of glass breaking or loud noises; open or broken windows and doors at a home or business; a person behaving in a manner that is not considered normal; individuals concealing property from public view; someone screaming for "help;" continuous screaming; vehicles driving with no lights on at night or without destination; and dogs barking at odd hours of the night.
When reporting an incident to authorities, Caughlin said that residents are advised to report it including as many details as possible, including the where, what happened, and if the suspect has a weapon. Caughlin said to call 911 when it's an serious emergency. For non-emergencies, people can call 288-255-9191.
"In order for a crime to occur, three elements have to be present," Caughlin said. "The desire of a criminal to commit a crime. The target and the opportunity for a crime to be committed. If you leave your house unlocked and they know this, that's an opportunity."
Caughlin said that she also gathered crime statistics for Waveland that spanned from January 2019 to present.
"We've had 82 assaults, 25 burglaries, 36 financial crimes, 186 thefts or larcenies, one murder, 57 narcotic incidents, and nine stolen vehicles," Caughlin said. "But we have had a total of 674 arrests. So a lot of the crimes that have occurred, we have been able to solve."
Caughlin asked interested residents on Wednesday to fill out information in order to compile a neighborhood watch directory. Neighborhood watch lists will be dispatched to officers when they are on duty, Caughlin said, so that officers will know who the participants are in a particular neighborhood.
Pat Peterson lives on Meadow Lane and said one of her neighbors' homes was recently robbed.
Peterson said she believes that a neighborhood watch program is important.
"I think everything around here has changed so much," she said. "We have a lot more people in our little area now. Before you knew everybody, now you don't. I have strange people up and down my street that I don't know and I've been there 50 years."
Peterson said that she and others in her neighborhood usually watch out for each other.
"Coming to the meeting tonight, you can always pick up good signs to watch for more stuff," Peterson said. "I'm going to try and work with our little street and try and get people involved with this."
Herlihy Street resident Karen Singleton also attended Wednesday's meeting.
"I thought it would be a good idea to come out and see what type of improvements that the new chief was implementing," she said. "And to come out to meet the new chief and the officers."
Singleton said she also wanted to learn what residents need to be mindful of in their areas to make them safe for the children.
She said she also plans to join the program.
Prendergast said he was "humbled" by the large turnout and said the neighborhood watch program is being established to "build a better relationship with our community."
"We need them to help us," he said. "We couldn't really do it without our community. They're our eyes."
Anyone interested in joining the neighborhood watch program can contact Caughlin at the police department at 228-467-3669.