Neighborhood Watch brings police and community together

Neighborhood Watch brings police and community together

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - One of the main ingredients in the recipe for keeping neighborhoods safe is cooperation between police and the community.

Neighborhood watch programs have been around for a long time, but they're becoming increasingly popular on the Coast.

Yolanda James started a neighborhood or community watch program in the Bayou View area of Gulfport after what she calls a terrifying incident involving her son and daughter.

"I got a phone call, 'Mom, someone is knocking on the door.' Maybe five seconds later, my son tells us they just kicked in the side door. They hid in the closet," James said.

James' daughter Kamani added, "My brother said we should run out the front door. After he kicked in the door we ran. I was really scared. I was thinking, 'I didn't want to die.'"

Following that incident, Yolanda contacted the Gulfport Police Department about starting a community watch in her neighborhood. Hundreds of people in the community are part of a Facebook group where they exchange concerns. They look out for each other, and share suspicious activity they've noticed with each other and police.

For Yolanda, it began with a burning desire to keep her family safe.

"I live for them. I love my children. I love my community, but my number one priority is my children. It's their safety," James said.

Gulfport Police Officer Wesley Majure took WLOX News Now Report David Elliot on a ride-along through a neighborhood that has since an increase of night-time thefts.

Majure and other officers appreciate citizens who are actively engaged in making sure their neighborhoods are safe.

"They are the community leaders. They're the ones making a big impact," Majure said.

Jamie Bates is another community watch captain who believes it's critical to be involved.

"Police are the authorities. We are the eyes and ears for them," said Bates, who runs a proactive community watch in Bayou Oaks.

Bates manages a closed Facebook group for what he calls The Island, which covers his neighborhood and others west of Lorraine Rd.

"I feel it's important to be an active member of our city, and helping combat crime whenever I can, and trying to inspire others to do the same," said Bates.

Neighbors post things on the page like surveillance video from a home security camera that shows a stranger rummaging through cars; which is a common problem.

"One of our biggest challenges is people leaving their car doors unlocked. People come by and check doors at night," added Bates, who is known to ride his bike around the neighborhood, sometimes late at night.

There are simple tactics to enhance security: community watch emphasizes using technology, and advancing the theory that there is safety in numbers.

"I'm a proponent of keeping doors locked, keeping the alarm set and having security cameras. We need to be aware of problems happening around our homes and looking after your neighbor," said Bates.

Most police departments and sheriff's offices on the Coast provide training for neighborhoods that want to start a community watch program. They also sponsor meetings and help concerned citizens learn all about what it takes to get a program up and running.

Officials say social media platforms have enhanced neighborhood watch by giving people instant access to information and alerts.

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