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Saratoga sees quick growth of Neighborhood Watch programs

San Jose Mercury News, April 4th, 2017

Saratoga citizens take community safety very seriously, so much so that they’ve certified 41 Neighborhood Watch groups, and the numbers continue to grow.

“With more than 40 Neighborhood Watch groups in Saratoga, our community has sent a clear message that we won’t sit by idly in the face of criminal activity,” Mayor Emily Lo said. “This is a community where people look out for one another and work closely with the sheriff’s office to report suspicious activity and share resources and safety tips.”

Between 2015 and 2016, there was an almost 22 percent increase in home break-ins, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s weekly activity summary reports. In response to this increase, the city of Saratoga announced a new safety plan and certified more than 30 Neighborhood Watch groups in October of 2016. Certified Neighborhood Watch groups are eligible for grants, and all groups that have applied have received their grants.

“We have 60 percent of Saratoga covered with Neighborhood Safety Watch programs,” Councilman Rishi Kumar said. “By the time we are done, sometime this year or next year, we will have covered 80 percent of Saratoga with Neighborhood Safety Watch initiatives.”

Kumar went neighborhood to neighborhood, revamping existing Neighborhood Watch programs and offering information about how to start new ones. So far in 2017, there has been nearly a 60 percent decrease in average weekly break-ins, from 3.1 in 2016 to 1.25 this year.

Saratoga residents interested in starting a program often consult Kumar, and the initial step is to set up a meeting with neighborhood residents.

Kumar said the most important thing is to connect all the neighbors, “and the most effective way of doing that is to actually converge everybody from the neighborhood into someone’s home, and just have a discussion about safety, and everybody gets to introduce themselves.”

Typically, 25 to 40 residents attend the one-hour meeting to get to know each other and talk about issues they’ve observed in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Watch captains are tapped to organize specific block captains in their neighborhoods, set up email lists for the group and let city officials know about safety concerns.

Ben Connors, captain of Saratoga’s Meadowbrook Neighborhood Watch, values the group in his community for raising awareness of neighborhood safety, sharing information and best practices, and helping members of the community get to know each other.

“We’ve used our Neighborhood Safety Watch to organize a neighborhood block party,” Connors said. “In the summertime we get everyone together, and … this platform gives an excuse and an easy way to get everyone together and have a hot dog and a coke, and meet your neighbors.”

Pat McRoberts, a block captain for the Meadowbrook Neighborhood Watch group, agreed that this program brought her neighbors together in an unprecedented way.

“I met all my neighbors, and that was the best part,” McRoberts said. “A lot of people are really busy; they drive their car into their garage, close the door and go inside. Their gardeners take care of their yard. Years ago, we all used to be out doing our yards and the kids were out playing; we knew all of our neighbors, and now it’s really not like that anymore.”

At the meetings, Kumar informs residents as to how burglars are breaking in, and the best practices to avoid such break-ins. Some of these include installing surveillance cameras, alarm systems, shock sensors, motion sensor lights, video doorbells and combination locks on fences; letting neighbors know about vacations; calling the sheriff’s office for a free safety assessment of a home; and reporting suspicious behavior to the West Valley Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office sees immense value in neighbors participating in their watch programs.

“Having a Neighborhood Watch is highly beneficial for our agency to be able to hear the concerns of the citizens of Santa Clara County so that the sheriff’s office can better allocate resources to the citizens we serve,” said Sgt. Rich Glennon of the media relations unit.

“It also provides an opportunity for the sheriff’s office to educate community members on criminal behavior so community members can feel greater confidence in reporting crime, becoming an active participant in the law enforcement process,” Glennon added. “The collaborative effort of a Neighborhood Watch promotes strong community bonds and facilitates good community policing.”

Last year, Saratoga residents lost nearly $2,143,000 in reported stolen property. This year already, residents have reported almost $126,400 in losses. Break-ins are happening weekly, and residents are continuing to reach out to Kumar to begin their programs.

For more information on Saratoga Neighborhood Safety Watch Programs, visit saratoga.ca.us.

San Jose Mercury News, April 4th, 2017