Success of Neighborhood Watch is touted

Thursday, July 5, 2012

By Michael Cleveland

Staff Writer

MILFORD – Police are hoping that the success of one Neighborhood Watch program will lead to the formation of other groups in town and Sgt. Matthew Fiffield believes the more the better.

But Fiffield, a seven-year veteran of the Milford department, is adamant that the program is about more than reporting crimes or suspicious people or activity. It’s about neighbors getting to know one another so that in any kind of emergency – a rash of crimes, certainly, but also a power outage or, recently, a fire – they can either help one another or let one another be aware of what’s going on.

Pam Robinson, whose call to the Milford Police Department got the Christmas Tree Lane-
Jennison Road-Richardson
Road Watch going with Fiffield’s help, sees it that way, too.

“It’s not just a crime watch,” she said in a phone interview. “We take the opportunity to use our group in other ways.”

About two weeks ago, a fire broke out at Riley Bros. Lumber Yard on Christmas Tree Lane and members of the Watch who could see the flames called other neighbors who knew nothing about what was going on.

Fiffield sees it being useful in natural disaster emergencies.

“Like last October when people were out of power,” he said, referencing the Halloween snowstorm. “They (the Neighborhood Watch group) were able to reach out to some of their neighbors” but not all of them because, at that time, they didn’t know as many of them as they do today.

That’s why he says the group is “more focused on community than the crime aspect of it. That’s why it’s labeled a Neighborhood Watch.”

Still, the impetus for the formation of this group was crime, Robinson agrees, specifically a rash of car break-ins a couple of years ago, and then the horrific murders in Mont Vernon.

It took some time to get things rolling.

“It had been in the back of my mind,” Robinson said, so she contacted Milford Police Chief Fred Douglas who turned it over to Fiffield.

“The department was interested in getting that program going,” Fiffield said earlier this week at the end of his patrol shift. “Community policing has always been a big interest for me, so it seemed kind of natural.”

He arranged a meeting with Robinson and some of her neighbors and explained how the program worked – with block captains taking charge of the specifics and being responsible for keeping people informed, and with one coordinator for the neighborhood who would stay in contact with Fiffield.

He described himself as the liaison between the Watch and the Police Department.

“It’s not like I’m running their Neighborhood Watch program,” he said “I’m part of their program, I work along side them.”

He can, if they ask, give them advice or answer questions only a member of the department could.

And at each meeting he holds with the Watch members, he tries to introduce a different topic of discussion, from things like basic home security to what to look for specifically if they see a suspicious person or a vehicle.

“So many people, even in neighborhoods where there’s more criminal activity, just believe that because it’s Milford, New Hampshire, or any place in New Hampshire, this is a fine place to leave my home or my vehicle unsecured and unlocked. That’s just making it much easier to victimize them,” the sergeant said.

Robinson sees the program going even further than a Watch organization, into the realm of things like self-defense classes, or even simple things like reminding people to “put that bar in your slider,” or discussions about exterior motion sensors.

But education is one of the keys for Fiffield.

“It’s surprising the number of people who just don’t know what to look for,” he said. “They may see something going on, but because it just doesn’t jump out at them, they tend to brush it off. If they were to see a suspicious person, a suspicious vehicle, I want to make sure that they know how to report that.”

And the key word there is “report.” Fiffield and the department do not want Neighborhood Watch members taking direct action.

“One of the first things we discussed was maintaining safety during crime reporting,” he said. “It’s not that they are to detain or try to detain or interview anybody they view as suspicious. They let us do that because we’re training on how to do it. They would call us.”

And such calls have come in from this group, he said, and it doesn’t matter if it actually leads to anything concrete.

“It could be something as simple as a town employee up there surveying, but the important thing is that they call us and let us know” when they don’t know for sure what’s going on.

And it’s no bother; the police don’t mind. Quite the contrary, Fiffield said.

“It’s almost unnatural for some people to call the police,” he said, often because they’re afraid of bothering already busy officers.

“That’s one of the focal points with this group,” the sergeant said, “raising the awareness level so that mindset gets altered. Luckily with this group, they’ll call with no problem.”

Now, he said, the key is to expand the program to other neighborhoods, a project that the Christmas Tree Lane Neighborhood Watch is eager to promote.

“We are hoping to help the police assist other neighborhoods in establishing a more formal type of Neighborhood Watch for their areas,” Robinson said.

Fiffield wants anyone interested to call him at the Police Department – 673-7742, ext. 362 – and he’ll get back to them and they’ll all get to work.

If it’s as successful as the group Robinson helped to start, it will be a real plus for any neighborhood.

“We feel better,” she said. “I do feel we are less at risk because of the Neighborhood Watch. There’s been a huge response. There are usually 15-20 people at our meetings and I think it just gives some of the people a sense of security where they were a little rocky because of what happened” in Mont Vernon, a town right up the road from Christmas Tree Lane. “They’re happy that people are keeping an eye out.”

Michael Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, Ext. 301, or at mcleveland

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