By Sue Botos
Back in the day, almost every neighborhood had its “busybodies,” those people who knew everything about everyone and needed little encouragement to tell all.
With many residents working or tending to other business during the day, empty houses have become inviting targets for thieves. Rocky River experienced a rash of burglaries at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, many of which occurred in broad daylight. Police said the robbers knocked on doors, then, when there was no answer, would break in and take anything from jewelry to electronics.
Now, police are urging residents to help out by being nosy.
“We’re trying to get back to old-fashioned policing,” Patrolman Bill Dawson told members of the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce at a recent breakfast talk. He referred to remarks made earlier by police Chief Kelly Stillman, who called this concept a “work in progress,” and said that police are aiming to become more visible in the community, visiting businesses and opening communications with residents. Dawson said that this communication is a two-way street.
Dawson said that those at home during the day, including the growing number of “telecommuters,” can help keep an eye on neighborhoods by using what he called “the hair factor.” He explained this as any incident that makes a person’s hair “stand on end” or gives the feeling that something is not right. Often, Dawson continued, people “justify” these observations and don’t call police. “If something like that happens, don’t hesitate to call us. We’d much rather find out that it’s nothing than something,” he stated.
One way for neighbors to keep an eye on each other is through block watch groups, and Dawson reported that there are officially 12 in the city, which vary in activity level. “I don’t initiate these,” explained Dawson, adding that the organizations are usually started by a concerned neighbor who often volunteers to be the group captain.
While Dawson frequently speaks at organizational meetings, he said, “the rest is all up to them” when it comes to meeting schedules and communication. He reported that an active group from Laurel Avenue often meets at the library, while another switches captains each month. Groups sometimes request talks by police and other officials, such as school Superintendent Michael Shoaf.
“The whole thing is based on neighbors getting to know each other,” Dawson told the chamber group. For example, he said, this could involve e-mails alerting about vacations, or out-of-town guests.
Most of the block-watch groups consist of 10 to 30 participants. “If they get too big, you lose perspective,” said Dawson. Active groups can also request block-watch signs.
In response to audience members’ questions, Dawson said that those who go door to door on a daily basis, such as meter readers and postal workers, usually can’t be counted on to report suspicious activity.
“Many times, they’re told not to get involved,” said Dawson, adding that occasionally, newspaper carriers will report papers piling up at a residence, or a postal carrier will give the alert to an overflowing mailbox, especially if it belongs to an elderly person.
Solicitors, according to Dawson, must register with the city, receive a permit and show a photo ID if asked to do so. He said they can be cited for going to a door displaying a “No Soliciting” sticker, which is available at City Hall or the police station. He said that while the stickers are for private residences, businesses can make their own policies regarding solicitation.
Business owners should invest in surveillance equipment which, according to Dawson, is relatively inexpensive and can also be used to keep an eye on neighbors. He gave the example of security cameras at the Cigar, Cigar store on Center Ridge Road, catching a robber at the neighboring Best Cuts.
Giving an update on the wave of break-ins over the winter, Dawson reported that four people were arrested in Parma, some with items stolen from Rocky River homes. They were found, he said, by cellphone tracking, which can be accurate within 10 to 15 feet.
Above all, Dawson said that “common sense” is the best tool to fight crime. He urged people not to bring valuable items to work, or leave them in cars. “Why invite (theft)?” he asked.