By Wesley Brown
Friday, March 22, 2013
City leaders and neighborhood watchers in the College View and Tar River historic housing districts began working on a plan this week to better combat off-campus crime by getting East Carolina University students more engaged in community affairs.
Many ideas were shared during a meeting before the University Neighborhood Revitalization Workgroup, a committee appointed by the Greenville City Council to study how to improve the safety and appeal of 200 acres of homes bordering ECU’s northern boundaries.
But it was enhanced street lighting and increased communication among homeowners, renters and landlords that won over a proposal to install more pan-and-zoom surveillance cameras in residential areas, which in some cases could be a violation of U.S. privacy laws.
“These cameras are powerfully strong,” Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden said of the idea of extending the reach of surveillance cameras used in commercial and residential zones along Fifth Street a block north to Fourth Street. “Literally, if it is on a utility pole, you have the potential to see into someone’s bedroom.”
Neighborhood watch groups have felt closely watched since February 2012, when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. The incident appeared to dampen enthusiasm for block-watcher programs in Greenville university neighborhoods, which are not worlds away from the complexity of Stand Your Ground laws, similar to the Castle Doctrine in North Carolina, officials said.
Belinda Perkinson, community watch chairwoman for the Tar River University Neighborhood Association, has tried since February 2011 to get the ball rolling on a program in the neighborhood that is popular among ECU students.
Perkinson finally gained enough interest last month to host the inaugural meeting for a TRUNA watch, but continues to have difficulty mobilizing ECU students to join the effort and getting people to volunteer to be block captains. At the moment, only three people have taken on the leadership role.
But there is help on the way.
Philip Rogers, chief of staff to ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, said the school’s Student Affairs Division is attempting to partner with campus police and the university’s Greek community to help build interest. Chris Woelkers, a member of the newly formed University Neighborhood Association, offered the group’s assistance with TRUNA on a community watch program. And Aden said he has formed a student advisory board to study how to get out the message of a crime watch. The chief held his first meeting with the panel this week.
“It is critical to make students aware and encourage them to take action,” Aden said. “We need their help to provide a service that is meaningful and of great impact to the community.”
All groups have talked about requiring landlords to include informational packets in their leases to educate tenants on how to protect themselves, their belongings and to become involved in community watches.
Among the tips that may be required in leases are the paths of well-lit walking routes from downtown that were discussed this week to keep students safe while walking home in the early morning, when most crime occurs in the city.
Perkinson said the group plans to apply for a city grant to buy signs, which costs about $54, all hardware included — post and screws.
Lt. Ed Carson, Greenville police’s crime prevention officer, said signs only will do so much and that a community watch is not a “100 percent guarantee crime will not occur in your neighborhood.”
Carson said the keys to a successful program are neighbors communicating with one another, being inclusive and paying attention to details, like the clothing, car and direction of travel of a suspicious character.
He stressed that watchers never should take risks to prevent a crime.
“Leave that up to us,” Carson said. “We’re equipped with the bullet-proof vests and trained to operate firearms.”
“It is better to be a great witness,” he said.
Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
via The Daily Reflector.