Imagine this …
While you are busy at work on a Wednesday morning, a burglar is rummaging through your home. He is invading the sacred space you and your children have lived in for more than 10 years. His hands are touching all of your personal belongings and in just few a minutes he has taken some of your most treasured possessions.
Your home has been burglarized.
A few minutes earlier, a neighbor down the street notices the stranger who was knocking on your door, and while he did seem a little out of place, she never bothered to call police … because it was probably nothing any ways.
This is a scenario that law enforcement officials say happens far too often. But the city of Cerritos’ Neighborhood Watch program strives to minimize these occurrences.
“Neighborhood Watch is basically a concept where neighbors befriend or associate with neighbors in manner where they all look out for each other,” said Mike Yach of the Cerritos Community Safety Division.
“It’s basically being your brother’s keeper ... it’s the concept of looking out for one another and protecting one’s neighborhood by being eyes and ears of law enforcement,” he added.
Cerritos Currently Has About 150 Neighborhood Watch Groups
With just over 49,000 people living in Cerritos, the Neighborhood Watch program currently has about 150 block captains – individuals who act liaisons for the and the Community Safety Division on behalf of their neighbors. And each of these captains is in charge of anywhere from five to 30 homes in their respective areas.
“Not all 150 block captains are very active, but every month they pick up copies of the official Neighborhood Watch report (which is available online at safercerritos.com) and they pass it out to their neighbors,” Yach said. “This gives the block captains the opportunity to interact with neighbors and also find out their needs.”
Through these block captains, residents can also relay important information and concerns that is specific to their neighborhood. Block captains in turn provide their groups with pamphlets and handouts from the Community Safety Division outlining crime trends, safety tips and strategies.
How Active Neighborhood Watch Groups Help Combat Cerritos’ Burglary and Theft Problems
But perhaps the most important aspect of this community partnership is its effectiveness in helping the sheriff’s station combat crime, particularly when it comes to burglaries and theft – the two major problems in the city of Cerritos.
“A strong Neighborhood Watch where neighbors look out for neighbors is an essential element in decreasing or eliminating crime in the area,” said sheriff's Lt. Jeff Deedrick. “I know that it significantly increases our chances of catching a suspect when someone calls, quite often people delay notification to us of a crime and the timeliness of a phone call is very crucial.”
The importance of alert residents proved its effectiveness last spring when a pair of burglars were posing as utility workers. Because residents were aware of the scam, the suspects were eventually caught with the help of an alert resident who reported suspicious activity in his neighborhood.
“These are calls that people make to us that give deputies the opportunity to make contact with these guys. Had that resident not made the call, they wouldn’t have been caught,” Yach said.
Residents Must Be Proactive Instead of Reactive
With this in mind, all residents are encouraged to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings.
“We want to make people aware of what’s going on around them,” said Yach. “We don’t want them to be paranoid but we want them vigilant.”
At the core of the Neighborhood Watch program is the belief that residents know their neighborhoods better than anyone else. So who better than to spot something out of the ordinary or suspicious in nature than those who live in the area?
“So many people see things and they are afraid to call and report something. That’s what we want to change – we also want people to know they can call anonymously. The main thing is that get the info so we can do something about it,” he added.
This approach entails calling the sheriff’s station (at 562-860-0044) immediately when something or someone in their neighborhood seems out of place. Yach, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, says providing information like license plate numbers or individual descriptions are always helpful.
“The partnership that law enforcement has with the community is crucial because one cannot survive without the other,” he said. “The community is the eyes and ears – they can observe things that are abnormal, out of place and can report it to law enforcement. This allows deputies to respond to the situation and investigate. We really rely heavily on people bringing things to our attention.”
How Do I Start A Neighborhood Watch Group in My Neighborhood?
Cerritos residents interested in joining an existing Neighborhood Wach group in their area or implementing a new one, should call the Community Safety Division at (562) 916-1266. All information pamphlets, instructional materials and signs will be provided to the block captain for distribution. Members of the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station/Community Safety Center are also available to speak to any Neighborhood Watch group to address any safety issues or concerns that may be relative to that particular area.
April 11 Neighborhood Watch Town Hall Meeting
As part of the city's community policing effort, residents are encouraged to attend at the starting at 7 p.m. Members of the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station/Community Safety Center will offer an in-depth presentation on crime in the city along with crime prevention tips and suggestions. For more information, call the sheriff’s station at (562) 860-0044.