North Riverside’s Community Watch program – where resident block captains and their neighbors serve as the police department’s eyes and ears in the neighborhoods – is undergoing something of a renaissance.
The program is nothing new in the village, having started in 1981, but it has waxed and waned at various points in its history. Led for many years by former Deputy Chief Tom Tauer, the program went into a kind of hibernation after Tauer’s retirement from the police department in April 2009.
“For the last few years it had fallen off,” said Police Chief Anthony Garvey. “With Tom retiring, there was no one with the skills and knowledge of running the program.”
But a gang-related incident involving gun play in July on the northeast side of the village sparked interest in reviving Community Watch. Garvey decided to move forward with revitalizing the program after village and police officials met with residents of the 2400 blocks of Hainsworth and Northgate avenues, near where the shooting happened, a couple of weeks after the incident.
“Several people asked what could be done and the topic of the watch program came up,” said Garvey.
With no one on staff to lead the way, Garvey turned to Tauer, who was hired on a temporary basis this fall to get the operation back on its feet. While Tauer gets the program running again, Garvey is sending officers to a training program for Community Watch.
“This was a model department for crime prevention,” said Tauer. “North Riverside always took pride in its crime prevention.”
Tauer has arranged three separate meetings with residents, on the northeast side of the village, though the goal is to roll out the program again village-wide and get participation from all corners of North Riverside.
Different parts of town have different problems, said Tauer, and police need to know how best to approach them. Residents near the mall deal with traffic and the occasional spillover crime from that commercial area. Those living near the forest preserves next to the river deal with illegal drinking parties in the woods. Residents near parks and schools have still other issues.
Police can’t be everywhere at once, said Tauer, and they need information gathered by the people who live in the neighborhoods.
“Everyone has a tailor-made problem,” he said.
Right now, Tauer is in the process of making contacts in neighborhoods, and he’s actively looking for volunteers to be block captains. It’s a simple process, he said. Block captains meet with police and then serve as the department’s liaison to the residents on the block, passing out informational fliers and signs that can be placed in windows.
The biggest part of the Community Watch program is getting residents to act when they see or hear suspicious activity.
“Success is based on residents and how seriously they’re going to take it,” said Garvey. “We don’t want residents taking matters into their own hands, but [to be] educated about what we’re looking for – not to ignore suspicious activity and not to not bother calling it in. There have been way too many times where incidents have happened and residents tell me later.”
As an example, Garvey brought up the rash of burglaries taking place in Riverside, Berwyn and North Riverside. Some residents had suspicions about people wandering the neighborhoods but didn’t call police.
“We had someone take a picture of the person who came to the door, but they never bothered calling it in,” Garvey said. “Squad cars can’t be everywhere. Residents have to be our eyes and ears.”
Anyone interested in being a block captain for the North Riverside Community Watch program can contact the police department at 447-9191.