Like many police departments across the country, Forest Park uses high-tech tools to fight crime but also relies on the good old-fashioned concept of neighbors watching out for each other and their city.
Twice a year, the police department combines the city's two Neighborhood Watch programs and hosts a cookout for members. It is a celebration of their commitment to their community. Billy and Wanda Carlisle joined about 200 of their neighbors and friends Thursday at the police department in festivities that included door prizes.
"We love it," said Billy Carlisle. "This is a good way to get to know the people who live around you.
City council members Sparkle Adams and Maudie McCord fixed plates and mingled with residents, police officers and other city officials. Police Maj. Chris Matson, Adams and McCord welcomed residents and thanked them for their participation and support of Forest Park.
Forest Park police Col. Tommy Orr said Neighborhood Watch was previously set up in 30-40 individual communities throughout the city.
"If there were issues in that area, we'd have good attendance," he said. "When the issues went away, so did the people. It takes a lot to schedule those meetings and sometimes just one or two people would show."
So the police divided the city into north and south sections to form two large programs.
"And we do the meetings here at the police department so we can use our Power Point presentation and other things we have here," said Orr. "It's worked out real well. An average meeting has 60-80 people."
Residents in the program often participate in other city offerings such as the Citizens Police Academy and TRIAD, a law enforcement initiative to keep senior citizens informed of safety issues and scams. Both programs are free.
Having residents educated in the way of citizens policing gives the police extra eyes and ears around the city.
"Since we started this program, calls about suspicious people have increased," said Orr. "We tell them over and over, if you are concerned about a situation, call 911 and let us handle it. If you are concerned, there may very well be something for us to be concerned about too."
If the police make an arrest as the result of a Neighborhood Watch resident calling in suspicious activity, that person is recognized at the meetings.
There was plenty of food Thursday and some lucky residents took home emergency weather radios, gift cards and blankets as door prizes.
The Carlisles are making full use of what the city has to offer.
"I really like the senior center," said Billy Carlisle. "There are so many activities there."
Wanda Carlisle grew up in Forest Park and the couple now live in her family's homestead. She thinks the city gets better as the years pass.
"When I was younger, we had to worry about men exposing themselves to us girls as we walked in our neighborhood," she said. "It's not like that anymore. It seems like the gangs are thinning out. I don't think the city is what it was — it's better."