By Justin Creech, Belvoir EagleAugust 18, 2011
After a slight uptick in car break-ins at the beginning of the summer, Woodlawn Village resident Gena Hernandez felt it was time for the community to take action to alleviate the problem and possibly prevent more.
Via Facebook, Hernandez put the call out to see if any other Woodlawn Village residents would be interested in starting a neighborhood watch program. Within a few weeks, she was able to get it started.
"The first two weeks of June, I just gauged who might be interested and the second to last week of June is when we started our first walking patrols at night, with a few people driving the neighborhood, as well," said Hernandez.
Nearly 10 residents attended the first meeting and those who could not attend contacted Hernandez on Facebook to let her know which patrolling shifts they would be able to walk.
By the end of the second week of patrolling, Hernandez said the number of reported incidents at Woodlawn went from 20 percent post-wide to zero.
The group patrols from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., as a driving patroller covers the entire neighborhood while most of the walking patrol covers two or more streets directly adjacent to wherever the patroller lives.
Hernandez said by the second week of the program enough residents had volunteered for her to be able to have two people every hour taking shifts.
"I've really been impressed by how many people have stepped up. It's easy to get disillusioned because you only hear the complaints because the squeaky wheel gets the grease and you hear people complaining about different things," said Hernandez. "But, to see how many people have stepped up and done something about it has been great."
Spc. Laison Dunnavant, Headquarters 12th Aviation Battalion, was one of the first residents to get involved with the program. He said he is glad the program has had such a quick impact.
"I think all of the residents feel safer since the program started," said Dunnavant. "There have been no reported incidents since we started."
Hernandez also wanted to make it clear that she and the rest of the neighborhood watch program aren't looking to arrest anyone.
"We're not military police or law enforcement," said Hernandez.
The neighborhood watch deters youth or other people with mischief in mind by providing a presence of concerned citizens, she said.
The group adopted the USAonWatch Neighborhood Watch Program at the suggestion of Directorate of Emergency Services Police Chief, Timothy Wolfe. USAonWatch is in partnership with the National Sheriffs' Association and has been one of the top Neighborhood Watch Programs since 1972.
Since they have seen results, Hernandez said one of the big angles she is pushing now is personal responsibility. Having grown up in the military, Hernandez feels each resident is responsible for doing their part to keep neighborhoods safe and the childrens' behavior in order.
"I think people have become far too complacent on military posts these days," said Hernandez. "My garage is always locked; I have a chain on my front door. There's a padlock on my back fence. If we are having people over and there's a reason for people to come in and out of there, then I take it off.
I feel safe in my house, because I have the safety measures in place that I don't have to worry about those people."
Hernandez also added, "As military Families, we are held to a different standard. People look at us as an example of the military, as a whole, and, when they see these kids out running the streets at one in the morning their impression is 'well, what are these parents doing?' They are entrusting us to defend their freedom and the country, and they expect us to act as such. I take a certain amount of pride in that."
The military police offers classes that Hernandez said she wants her and the rest of the residents involved in the program to take. Classes range from home and personal security to refreshers on what Belvoir's policies are on child supervision.
She also said she hopes the program continues after she and her Family are re-stationed.
"One of the downsides of communities like this is there is so much turnover," said Hernandez. "But, hopefully we will get enough of a base established that new people can come in and pick right up and continue it without too much of a learning curve."