By Nathan Mayberg
WURTSBORO July 30, 2004 Vandalism, drug activity, threats and other crimes were met full-force by residents of the Village of Wurtsboro on Monday evening through the formation of a neighborhood watch program.
About three dozen area residents met at the Wurtsboro Firehouse with Sergeant Luis Alvarez and Deputy Joe Poppo of the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department to form a consensus on how to react. The two are also D.A.R.E. and crime prevention officers.
The officers will return August 16 to begin training the citizens in the watch program.
Several residents voiced their fears of retribution for reporting crimes. Many of them are senior citizens. One said several people had been threatened by teenagers over the last few weeks and that there are many older women living alone who dont know who is roaming around at night.
The officers attempted to persuade the residents that the only way they could end the crime was through reporting it immediately.
Said Poppo, Crime is like water. It takes the path of least resistance.
He also told the worried citizens that by teaming together, they would no longer be alone. They could call each other when worried about outside activity. Neighborhood Watch signs could also work as a deterrent, he said.
The officers said the callers could remain anonymous by stating their wish to do so when asking for emergency help.
The more you report it, the more we know about [the crimes], said Alvarez.
One woman who lives where much of the criminal activity has occurred said she confronted a young boy who was carving a large knife into the parks benches. He denied it, and the woman was not able to catch him in the act. However, several residents identified him as a resident of Summitville.
She was also bothered by young skateboarders, who are active at all hours of the night. . . . Where are their parents?
Alvarez said that some of the vandalism in the village was committed by gang members. Others were copycat crimes. He also said the village had been the center of a large boiler room operation where 5,000 calls were being made a day to defraud the public out of money.
Many residents appeared to know exactly who some of the other culprits were. Mayor Bob Whitehead said the skateboarders in particular were being dropped off by parents from Summitville and Wurtsboro Hills.
Alvarez said the watch program would enable the community to be the eyes and ears for the officers. He said the department solves the majority of their crimes roughly 90 percent through the publics effort.
The watch program would divide the village into sectors and assign a captain for each section. Residents would walk the streets or otherwise patrol the village nightly or weekly, depending on how many volunteers there are.
The village could also receive money from the New York State Attorney Generals office to set up cameras in certain areas.
The officers repeatedly advised the citizens that their job would not be that of enforcement but to serve as eyes for the local authorities.
Alvarez said to look for signs of trouble, such as young people walking up and down a street two or three times.
Popp suggested a village ordinance that would fine the parents for the crimes of their children.
If you want to make the parents accountable, hit them in the pocketbook, he said.
One citizen complained that there is nothing to do for young people. Not so, said Whitehead, who pointed out basketball courts and a town pool.
Village resident Bill Maher asked the officers about the legality of ATVs in the village. The officers informed him that such vehicles could not legally be driven on roads. Those who wish to drive them at all must be registered and insured.
They also pointed to a recent ATV-related death in the Town of Bethel, voicing their displeasure with the town for legalizing the use of the vehicles.
After the meeting, Hoyt Wood said the village had a serious drug problem.
Its got to stop, he said. We are going to take [the village] back.
Drug dealers conduct business in front of Stewarts Shop in broad daylight, he charged. He also said that many knew the names of some of the criminals but could not prove it. He said the same group was responsible for a string of tire slashings in the village last year.
Wood believed there is an entire cultural shift.
When I was a kid, we found something to do. . . . [Now] I cant pay a kid to mow the lawn.
The youngsters are given money by their parents, so they dont have to work, he charged.
Village citizen Lee Mendez, who was one of the first and strongest supporters of the community watch program, said the program has been successful in other communities throughout the country.
But he is alarmed by the recent graffiti. He moved away from New York City, in part, to get away from the culture of graffiti and crime. He called graffiti just the beginning.
You have to nip it in the bud.