Block watch programs help decrease crime

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(File photo by MARY MALONE) During a Ponderay City Council meeting in February, Bonner County Sheriff’s Office Community Force Neighborhood Watch volunteers Rick Cox and Mary Gore showed off one of the free signs available to those who sign up for a block watch.

SANDPOINT — Neighborhood watch programs nationwide have been credited with "significant reduction in crime," according to a 2008 United States Justice Department study.

On average, there was a 16-percent decrease in crime in neighborhood watch communities, although the study found that some programs worked better than others.

The Bonner County Sheriff's Office neighborhood watch program is growing and has helped prevent crime in rural neighborhoods. Volunteer, Rick Cox, said some rural areas were having trouble with mail theft, and one of the things taught by the volunteers in the program is for block watch members to set up surveillance, such as game cameras.

"They started putting up game cams and started capturing photos of some of the people who were doing (the mail theft), and there have actually been some of them incarcerated," Cox said.

The program started in the more rural areas of the county and, with the recent approval by Sandpoint and Ponderay police chiefs, is moving into the cities as well. Cox said it started in the rural areas because of the time it takes for a sheriff's deputy to get to some places.

"Don't try to do anything yourself," Cox said. "Just get as much information as you can — description of people, description of cars, license plate numbers, that kind of stuff — that is what we are after (members) to do."

The BCSO program is up to about 400 members and 20 block watch captains. There are also several volunteers who help with things like training and providing information to the watch captains and members, he added.

Bob Proctor, volunteer and a block watch captain, lives in a rural area on Spirit Lake Cutoff Road where he said there was consistent problem with breaking and entering, property theft and vandalism. It was nearly two years ago, he said, when he contacted the sheriff's office to see what setting up a block watch would entail and ended up joining the BCSO Neighborhood Watch.

He and his neighbors who joined began putting up block watch signs in front of their houses and the crime problem seems to have diminished, he said.

"I believe the word has spread to some of these people that you don't really want to be doing what you were doing, and I am going to knock on wood right now, but the neighborhood has been a lot quieter ... that may be just circumstances, it may be coincidence, but I think it has had a positive effect," Proctor said.

Mary Gore, who joined about six months ago, said she believes there are 11 volunteers, and while she is the only woman, she hopes more will join. In the past 20 years, Gore has seen her share of crime. 

"I've seen the toll it takes on people and that's why I wanted to get involved," she said. "Our county is growing and there is going to be more crime, more people."

The first job she had that really gave her a look into crime was as a legal transcriber for the San Luis Obispo County attorney's office, transcribing things like murder cases. Then, in Prescott, Ariz., Gore served as a crime victim advocate for a victim witness division. She would go with victims and families of victims to murder trials, child molestation trials, as well as others, and would help them get state assistance with things like medical expenses, wages, counseling and funeral costs.

"So I saw the emotional turmoil and the financial turmoil it took on victims of crime," Gore said. "It was a very stressful job, and it was very rewarding."

When she moved to Idaho, she worked at the domestic violence shelter for seven or eight years as well.

Not only has she worked with so many victims, her own family became a victim of crime when her nephew was stabbed to death by a gang member in California. Her nephew and his fiancee were on their way home from dinner one evening when the gang members got in front of their car and pulled them out.

"He stabbed my beautiful 28-year-old nephew to death," Gore said. "... She got stabbed in the hand fighting off the woman ... It was horrific."

The gang members were caught as they headed toward Mexico and were ultimately convicted for the crime.

"So, I've always wanted to help people," Gore said. "I thought this would be a good way to help and prevent crime in this area."

Gore and her husband, who is retired law enforcement, live in the outskirts of Sandpoint near Baldy Mountain. She said while there is not a lot of crime in her neighborhood, she feels having a block watch set up is still a good deterrent to ensure it stays that way.

The volunteer group meets once a month, and Proctor said during those meetings they discuss things like crime trends, crime reports and any known problems in specific areas. Then, they pass that information on to their neighborhood watch groups.

"It's a good group of people," Proctor said. "By and large for a small town, a small community and small sheriff's group, I think they do marvelous work."

Cox said the volunteers will gladly speak at any organization's meetings. To set up a meeting, or for anyone interested in starting a block watch in their area contact Sheryl Kins at the Bonner County Sheriff's Office at 208-263-8417, ext. 3049.

For those interested in starting a block watch in their area, Kins will arrange for a volunteer to come to their home to provide more information.

Also, Cox said any businesses owners who would like to carry program brochures should call Kins at the number above. Cox has a brochure distribution route of 26 locations, including many police departments, post offices, city halls and senior centers throughout the county.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at and find her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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