Community Services Officer reaching out to neighborhood groups
By Rich Heiland
For Walker County News Today
The Huntsville Police Department will be trying a new experiment for the popular “National Night Out” which this year falls on Oct. 2.
HPD Community Services Officer Ryann Kaaa-Bauer told a group of Elkins Lake residents last week that the large gathering at Kate Barr Ross Park will be replaced by a cluster of neighborhood gatherings around the city. Between now and Oct. 2 she will be working with interested neighborhoods to set up activities.
She said while the large city-wide gathering was successful, the real goal of National Night Out is to create neighborhood awareness and help neighbors band together to develop crime prevention groups.
“To have ‘community’ you need ‘unity’ and that means each of you,” she said.
Kaaa-Bauer was at the Elkins Lake Clubhouse at the request of the club to bring homeowners up to date on what services the HPD offers as well as what neighbors can do to help each other.
Concerning National Night Out she told the group Elkins already has participated in the neighborhood events that in past years have worked in tandem with the city-wide gathering. Her hope for this year is that more Elkins residents will participate at the neighborhood level, but she stressed the effort to get blocks to host their own “night out” is city-wide.
“Last year we had 13 gatherings, with four or five in Elkins. We’d like to expand that,” she said.
Elkins residents have expressed concerns about door-to-door solicitors and that issue came up. Kaaa-Bauer emphasized that just because Elkins posts “no soliciting” signs at the development’s entrance, it can’t ban solicitors. Elkins is now a part of the city and city ordinances apply. She reviewed the ordinance that requires solicitors to register with the city, but she said a lot of solicitors do not register.
Homeowners can put “no solicitor” signs by the doorbell, she said, but unscrupulous solicitors may ring the bell anyway. She recommended against any kind of confrontation that could escalate.
“The person is at your open door. Does anyone see any danger in that?” she asked the group.
The best advice is to shut the door and call HPD.
She stressed the city has two phone resources. The first is 911 for emergency use. The second one is a 24-hour non-emergency line – 936-435-8000. She said callers with something to report often look up the regular HPD department number and outside office hours that goes to voice mail. The 435-8000 line is answered 24/7.
“This number is for when you see something that is not quite right and want to report it, but it’s not an emergency,” she said.
Kaaa-Bauer shared three other HPD programs, in addition to National Night Out, homeowners can take part in that will help with crime reduction:
Neighborhood Watch – This is one of the oldest programs in the country in terms of neighborhoods but a lot, probably most, neighborhoods in Huntsville and Walker County don’t have watches. Part of Kaaa-Bauer’s outreach work is helping neighbors set them up.
She stressed throughout her talk that the bottom-line most important thing neighbors can do to lessen crime risk is the get to know one another. That’s not just on a “say hi” level but in terms of what constitutes “normal” at homes in a neighborhood.
“You know what is normal in your neighborhood and what is not. All of us are busy and on the move these days, but wouldn’t it be nice to know your neighbors?” she asked. Watch programs and National Night Out help grow those bonds.
Like it or not, growth is coming Huntsville’s way and with growth is the chance of an increase in crime. But alert neighborhoods can put up a bit of a barrier to that. She stressed that no phone call reporting what a person feels is suspicious behavior is “a bother…we want to hear from you.”
Vacation Check – If you are going to be gone, whether for a long weekend or a two-month trip, the HPD will watch over your home. While Kaaa-Bauer hopes to put the request form online at some point currently homeowners or renters need to go to the police department to fill one out.
“It will ask you how long you will be gone, do you have an alarm system, outside lights left on or on timers, a car in the driveway. This allows us to know what is normal and what is not. Also, we will ask you for the name, address and phone number of someone, preferably a neighbor, who has a key to your house,” she said.
An officer will stop by the house once every 24 hours, possibly more often depending on other demands. Officers will get out and look around the house. This also has an added benefit of a physical presence in a neighborhood.”
“You probably will have neighbors say ‘we saw the police at your house’ and that’s a good thing,” she said.
Special Needs Citizens – “This is a program we have had on the shelf and I am dusting it off,” Kaaa Bauer said. If you have any special needs inside hour house – an autistic child, a deaf or blind person, a person with mobility issues – you can register that information with the police. It helps first responders, both medical and police, know about special communication or mobility needs.
Anyone interested in a National Night Out event or in creating a Neighborhood Watch group can contact Kaaa-Bauer at 936-291-5493 during business hours or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.