To a visitor ringing the doorbell, the words “My neighbour is watching you” on Michelle’s door are hard to ignore.
The Newton resident and Block Watch captain calls it “the power of the sticker” – a sign that this cul-de-sac is taking crime seriously.
And it’s working, says Michelle, who asked that her last name not be used.
Before this year, she and her neighbours witnessed recurring drive-by drug dealing on their street.
Some dealers were even bold enough to smile and wave to residents while making their transactions.
Michelle said she’d seen one type of crime or another in her neighbourhood for 25 years, but the final straw was seeing a drug transaction in broad daylight near six young children playing in a yard.
“I believe that (the dealers) were armed,” she said.
In January 2015, she inquired about Block Watch, underwent a security check, and enrolled with the program, which is run by the Surrey RCMP.
In her initial training session, she met 31 other prospective Block Watch captains from throughout the city, and learned about the types of crimes that take place in different neighbourhoods.
She learned about what to look for, how to make changes to home and personal safety and how the program could increase communication between residents and the police.
As the Block Watch captain, Michelle gets feedback from the RCMP about recent events and safety updates, and shares reports with local residents over email.
Keeping a neighbourhood safe is a group effort.
Before Block Watch, she said, “you’d wave to the neighbour, but you didn’t know who they were. We know each other’s names now, and people are watching out for each other.”
Residents of Block Watch zones don’t do patrols or actively seek trouble.
“You don’t go looking for it. But some days you just stumble upon something… suspicious.”
Going about their daily business, residents pay attention to thing that don’t feel right – suspicious cars, open windows or garage doors, alarms and people who don’t look like they belong.
On her block, residents of 18 houses know of each others’ work schedules so they have a better idea of when someone might not be home.
So far this year, residents on Michelle’s block have made 36 calls to the RCMP. Each time they called the police, they also let Michelle know, and she relayed the information to the rest of the street.
She believes a major reduction in crime in her area has taken place because of more police patrols in both marked and unmarked cars – called by residents on her own block as well as nearby Block Watch streets.
“We would much rather you report the person that looks suspicious at the time it’s noticed than have you think about it the next day after your vehicle has been broken into,” said Blair Berkner, the Crime Prevention Programs coordinator for District 3 (Newton). “Those calls are so important in helping to break the chain of events that could occur. Getting people trained to spot suspicious activity, picking up the phone to call in and make a report is exactly what can help prevent any criminal activity from occurring.”
Berkner says that Block Watch, which started in Surrey in 1986, covers about 10,000 residences in the city, including single-family homes, strata apartments, townhouse complexes, highrises and mobile homes.
He said the Block Watch program, through prevention and discouragement, can reduce overall crime by half on any street that gets involved.
Michelle added she believes that every call made to the police about suspicious activity helps the them put another piece in an overall crime puzzle, even if the caller doesn’t see it from their end.
To further the cause of lowering crime in the city, Block Watch captains also get from the RCMP a weekly list of cars that have been stolen (or recovered) in Surrey. They get plates, makes, models, years and colours, as well as the general areas in which the cars were stolen.
Michelle said she sees about 20 cars on the list each week – “lots of Hondas.” She then emails the information to her block.
Although no stolen cars have been spotted on her street so far, Michelle said the Stolen Auto Recovery Initiative (SARI) has been effective in other parts of Surrey.
SARI was developed early this year in Cloverdale and then adopted by the RCMP’s other districts.
“We depend on the residents and businesses of Surrey to observe and report any suspicious activity in order to reduce crime and increase community safety,” said Surrey RCMP Community Services Officer Insp. Ghalib Bhayani. “Our Block Watches are well-positioned to assist us in the identification of stolen vehicles as they are already on the lookout for suspicious activities in their neighbourhoods.”
As for drug dealing on her street, Michelle says it has essentially stopped.
“This program has worked.”
For more information about Block Watch in Surrey, visit http://bit.ly/KFGV35.
To contact your local Block Watch coordinator, call:
• District 1 – City Centre/Whalley: 604-502-6287
• District 2 – Guildford/Fleetwood: 604-502-6509
• District 3 – Newton: 604-502-6560
• District 4 – Cloverdale/Port Kells: 604-502-6265
• District 5 – South Surrey: 604-599-7862