Citizens on virtual patrol
Area residents connect on Nextdoor.com to prevent crime, share information
By Gena Brookes 07/24/2014
In today’s lightning-fast, technology-centric world, networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become invaluable tools in keeping breaking news both accessible and interactive for their users. For Ventura County residents, interactive networking sites and updated security systems are starting to assist citizens and police in keeping both property and personal safety protected against criminal activity.
Last year, longtime Midtown Ventura resident Mary Smith (her name was changed to protect her privacy) came home to find her house ransacked. She found many family possessions scattered across the living room floor, jewelry boxes bagged in pillow cases, and the family dog left tied up by the offenders in the front yard. The stolen items included prescription pain killers, antique coins and $100 in cash.
“It’s an extreme invasion of privacy,” Smith said. “Although the neighborhood still feels safe, this incident creates the conditions that cause my family to worry.”
In a recent incident of another home robbery in Midtown Ventura near Community Memorial Hospital, Sally Brown (her name was changed) had several items stolen, including a laptop computer and jewelry boxes. These crimes created a ripple eaffect across Midtown, with different reports of suspicious activity, including one well-dressed woman with a clipboard scoping out houses to determine if there was easy access, and a white van that seemed to be slowly casing neighborhoods during the day.
This increase in property crime has been noted by Ventura Police Sgt. Terry Medina, who works in the area east of Mills Road and north of the 126 Freeway.
“With every newly reported crime, the Ventura Police Department issues a series of directed police patrols in the area in attempts to bring down the recent activity,” Medina said. “There are many factors that produce an increase in crimes, such as overcrowding and the subsequent early release from prisons, and the general appearance and accessibility of a house.”
Medina continued, “It is hard to separate property crimes from narcotics,” since drug users commonly steal items to trade or pawn and thereby fuel their drug abuse.
To help neighborhoods combat criminal activity, the Ventura Police Department in 2012 launched a free virtual neighborhood watch program called Nextdoor.com. The online program strives to foster neighbor-to-neighbor communications as well as to keep property safeguarded against criminal activity.
“Since the program’s launch, 52 neighborhoods, 1,370 households and over 4,000 people in Ventura County have signed up to use the network,” said Kevin Jeffries, communications/ public affairs and civic engagement specialist at the Ventura Police Department. “Nextdoor is designed to be pushed out to the public and strives to give neighborhoods a greater sense of community.”
Since the website’s introduction, robbery statistics in Ventura have been down, with 46 in 2013, as compared to 58 in both 2012 and 2011.
Nextdoor is similar to a Facebook page in that neighbors may “like” and “friend” people in their neighborhoods. In order for a neighborhood to become launched and active on Nextdoor, a neighborhood region has to receive 25 or more “likes” on its page. Ventura residents may use Nextdoor to exchange local advice, make recommendations and share information about current events in the community.
Although the site is based online, the information shared on Nextdoor is password-protected, and all personal information remains private and unavailable for those living outside of the neighborhood. For those who prefer to meet neighbors face to face, setting up a more traditional Neighborhood Watch meeting is recommended.
Raquel Gomez, Neighborhood Watch liaison for the Ventura Police Department said the program seeks to “have everyone in the neighborhood introduce themselves and share any concerns they might have about crime in the area. [From there], establish a standard form of communication for sharing information amongst those in your Neighborhood Watch, and determine who will act as Neighborhood Watch block captain(s) for your area.”
Along with a Neighborhood Watch program, updating home security systems is a worthwhile investment to ensure the overall safety of a household. Draganchuk Alarm and Security has an extensive variety of modernized security systems, including a surveillance camera system or closed-circuit TV, an intrusion alarm system and a home access control system.
According to Michael Clinton, general manager of Draganchuk, “Thieves wish for a house with low visibility and a high yield,” or a house that appears both accessible and profitable for a potential robbery. Clinton recommended doing a “reasonable risk assessment of your property” in order to find any weak points and exposures in your home security.
“Security systems are a proven deterrent for criminals, but people also have to be aware of what is taking place in their neighborhood so they don’t become an easy target,” said Clinton.
For more information about neighborhood safety and Nextdoor, visit www.cityofventura.net/pd; and for crime prevention tips, visit NeighborhoodWatchVenturaCounty.com. For more information about Draganchuk security systems, visit www.draganchuk.com, or call 642-8799.