JONESBORO — Residents of one of the county’s oldest subdivisions got together Monday night to celebrate a milestone — one year’s participation in a Neighborhood Watch program.
Clayton County police Officer Eddie Soto was on hand to help more than 50 of the neighborhood’s 300-plus residents mark the occasion. Soto got the program started in Oak Forest last year. The chapter got a $750 boost in the form of a grant awarded in June by Clayton Sheriff Kem Kimbrough.
“They are very active in Neighborhood Watch,” said Soto. “They are well-established and organized. I’m sure those are some of the reasons Sheriff Kimbrough gave them the grant. It’s very rare to have a Neighborhood Watch program last as long as a year.”
Soto said the communication between residents and police is a two-way street.
“They keep us up to date through e-mails and we advise them on what to be looking out for,” he said.
Soto has been transferred out of the sector where Oak Forest is situated since helping residents get the program going but police Capt. Steve Branham, who is the commander of that sector, also attended the meeting.
Marion and Nancy Hutchinson were instrumental in getting the program started. Marion Hutchinson said he was tired of all the break-ins and decided to take action instead of complaining. Burglaries have dropped since the Watch was formed. Residents meet every first Monday of the month at Church of the Harvest International on Tara Boulevard.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, you have to keep at it,” he said.
The celebration was held at the church, complete with a cake decorated with a Neighborhood Watch sign and a donated platter of nuggets from Chick-fil-A Dwarf House on Tara Boulevard, among other goodies.
Neighbors Marvin and Dianne Moore and Earl and Lynn Cochran were eager to get involved in their community. The Moores have lived in Oak Forest for 16 years, the Cochrans for 36.
“We had a lot of crimes, people breaking into houses,” said Marvin Moore. “The only avenue we had to bring crime under check was Neighborhood Watch.”
Lynn Cochran saw an immediate difference.
“We haven’t had issues for a long time,” she said. “We raised three daughters there, it was a really good neighborhood but it’s changed a little bit, the demographics are different. We have more renters, they don’t stay long.”
She said it was typical for families to raise their children and leave the subdivision to retire elsewhere.
“That was going to be us,” she said of her and Earl. “But the market fell and hit Clayton County really bad. I think having Neighborhood Watch will help the values of our homes. People will see a neighborhood where people care. I hope so anyway.”
Marvin Moore said the program has instilled a sense of pride in his neighbors and Lynn Cochran agreed.
“We want to grab a lawnmower and go down the street to help a neighbor with his grass,” she said.
The program also taught residents not to fear 911.
“The police department has been so helpful and informative,” said Lynn Cochran. “They keep telling us not to be afraid to call 911. You never know what you may see that could be something big. Needless to say, I won’t hesitate to call 911 if I see something wrong or someone strange.”
Another side effect — getting to actually know the people with whom she shares so much.
“It’s good to recognize my neighbors or at least their cars, that’s so important,” she said. “And we discovered that Marvin and I went to elementary school together. We didn’t know that until Neighborhood Watch.”
For information on forming a Neighborhood Watch program, contact the Clayton County Police Department at (770) 477-3747.