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The City Journals

Neighborhood Watch Continues in Growth, Ability to Keep Community Safe

May 05, 2016 04:03PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Sugar House -The word vigilante is associated with famous comic book characters like Batman or Spiderman. In Sugar House, the word vigilance can apply directly to the Highland High Area Neighborhood Watch (HHANW). 

In December of 2014, Barb Shelley, along with her neighbors Chad and Victoria Saley and the support and guidance of the Salt Lake City Police Department, founded HHANW to help combat crime in the Sugar House area. 

“I finally had had enough of the crime, prowlers, peeping Toms, suspicious activities, people breaking car windows or ringing my doorbell for dubious reasons,” Shelley said. 

Over 16 months, the group’s numbers have swelled to approximately 260 participants on the group’s Facebook page and email list of 50, with hundreds more who are contacted by those members.

“I realize that I too had much to learn, and neighborhood watch has facilitated my understanding of crime and how to work with the police department,” Shelley said. 

Members include city council representatives, journalists, high school students and the chair of the Sugar House Community Council. People of all ages are joining HHANW. 

“We’re learning how to fortify our homes, reaching out to our immediate neighbors and learning the best way to report suspicious activity,” Shelley said. 

“The larger the group of active members is the better for not only the officers but the community they live in as well,” Det. Joshua Ashdown said. “One of the best things about a local community watch group is that they often know the people living there better than the beat officers ever will.”

On Jan. 20, 40 members of HHANW met with Greg Wilking, Salt Lake City Police detective, at Highland High School to be trained on core operating procedures of keeping their community safe. 

Sugar House can be particularly vulnerable to crime and burglaries because of its proximity to the freeway on and off-ramps making it easier for people to get away quickly. 

HHANW is working to improve the Sugar House community through networking. 

Shelley said the watch group reminds each other to fortify their homes, know who lives on your street in houses and spare rooms, and watch out for each other. 

“We used to watch out for each other naturally in the olden days,” Shelley said. 

Jon Roderick, Sugar House resident and member of HHANW, said in addition to the neighborhood watch, an app called Nextdoor has assisted with community networking. 

Nextdoor is a private social network for your neighboring community. 

Roderick, the Nextdoor leader in his area, can invite members of his geographic area into the network and invite a community police officer as well. 

Roderick said with so much crime in the area, it’s been a great form of communication with his neighbors. 

“It’s forced us to communicate more effectively in the neighborhood,” Roderick said. “It’s unfortunate that crime has forced us to do that.” 

One of the most important aspects of the neighborhood watch has been its communication with the police. Sugar House will have Bike Patrols again returning in May. 

Ashdown told those in attendance at the Sugar House Community Council that by always reporting crime to the police, even if it’s just theft of a rake, will provide the necessary data allowing them to evaluate trends, patterns and help identify suspects. 

“Active watch groups can be very helpful to know what new crime patterns are occurring,” Ashdown said. 

“Reporting crime is how we residents aid the police in their work on our behalf,” Shelley said. 

“You’re not bugging them [the police] …people can be hesitant to get involved, but the police need our eyes to watch our neighborhood,” Roderick said. 

Shelley, who moved to the Sugar House area in the 1970s, said it also gives the neighborhood watch more credibility with the police department encouraging more communication and more assistance on their part. 

“It makes us more visible and take power in a responsible way,” Shelley said. 

Shelley said learning the proper way to report suspicious activity has spurred her confidence.

Ashdown said the police receive thousands of calls regarding suspicious people that often carry vague details. Good descriptions of a person or a partial plate of a car can help narrow the field. 

“Shoes, as dumb as it sounds, are often helpful,” Ashdown said. “People can shed layers of clothing, but few change their shoes in flight from their crimes.” 

With Bike Patrols returning, Ashdown said having more numbers will increase the neighborhood relationship with officers like they had decades ago.

“As we get more officers back into patrol, we can resurrect the old beat system, which gives each officer a smaller area,” Ashdown said. “Some of that neighborhood officer will return.” 

HHANW structures their membership into block groups, which allows them to share information with one another in an effective manner. This summer, the block groups will hold potluck suppers while Salt Lake City Community Intelligence Unit Officers for their districts will speak to them and their specific areas. 

Shelley and Roderick said Sugar House’s location makes it a great place to live with its proximity to Millcreek Canyon, the University of Utah and the airport. 

“But burglars like that stuff too,” Shelley said. 

Roderick said he hopes with the increase in officers, the crime will diminish. 

For more information on the Highland High Area Neighborhood Watch, you can find them on Facebook, or you may email Barb Shelley at [email protected]