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Sherman looking into Neighborhood Watch program

October 19, 2016
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

SHERMAN-Residents of the town and village of Sherman learned about what is involved in starting a Neighborhood Watch Program at a presentation given by Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles Holder on October 13.

Sherman citizens met at the fire hall to gain a better understanding of what might be done to curb the criminal acts that are occurring with increasing frequency throughout the area.

Officer Holder told the audience that a neighborhood watch program is a partnership between a community and law enforcement. He said that such a program prevents and reduces crime, unites a community in a common goal, and builds a base for identifying and correcting neighborhood problems.

Article Photos

Photo by David Prenatt
Chautauqua County Undersheriff Charles Holder talks to residents of the Sherman area about how to establish a neighborhood watch program.

While the scope of a neighborhood watch program can range from residents keeping an eye on each other's houses to citizens actually patrolling their neighborhood, an organized program is not easy to establish and make work, Holder said.

"This is not an easy road if you decide to go this way," Holder said. "You need to establish a group of dedicated citizens that really want this to happen."

The hardest part of creating a successful neighborhood watch program is maintaining the energy that started it, Holder said. A community needs to select a group of leaders who are truly in it for the common good and not for personal reasons, he said. These leaders need to be able to push an agenda forward, get along with people, have good listening skills, conduct efficient meetings and have a long-range vision for the community.

Holder then explained what residents of the community should look for and report. To be a good witness, a person must be able to render a detailed description about an event. "The key to any neighborhood watch is to be a good observer," he said.

Holder noted that anyone calling 911 should expect a lot of questions from the dispatcher. This is done in order to get the best detail, he said. While Chautauqua County has a non-emergency number (753-4231), people should not be afraid to call 911, he said. "If you are thinking it may be an emergency, it probably is," he said.

Holder said that crime prevention must be practiced. He said it is important that people secure their homes with locked doors and windows, trim shrubs near buildings so criminals can't hide, put identification numbers on implements, and light their properties at night and consider installing a surveillance systems.

Michelle Swabik, Executive Director of the Rural Center, asked those present what they felt was the biggest issue in the community. Several residents responded that the main problem in Sherman is kids who are committing crimes and not being punished.

Sherman Village Mayor John Patterson asked Holder how difficult it is to put a real bite on people who get caught. Holder said "if you establish a local ordinance on curfew, the parent is the one that we go after. The parent doesn't want to get fined or go to court."

Holder also explained that youth who have reached the age of sixteen can be charged as adults. However, he said, this is likely to change soon. "Sixteen and seventeen year-olds will probably soon be included in the juvenile group," he said.

Youth who are 13 -15 can be taken to family court, Holder said. "When you see these kids, call us, and we'll go down and talk to them or we'll contact their parents," he added.

Swabik told the audience "We also need to get the youth involved in positive things." She said Sherman has a youth problem that is significant. She noted that the two back alleyways are not being watched. Several residents mentioned that the Chautauqua Rails to Trails trail is a problem area, and teenagers are known to hang out there and commits acts of vandalism.

One member of the community told Officer Holden there is a local establishment, that if they get a bad check, the customer's name is posted in a conspicuous place. He asked if anything like that can be done to make the community aware of vandals.

Officer Holden responded that these things cannot be done with juveniles. "You could get into a lot of trouble if you post a kid's name as a vandal," he said.

Holder said the next step for Sherman would be to decide if it wanted an actual neighborhood watch organization or just to encourage watchful habits among its citizens. "I think you are on the right tract," he said. "But it has to begin here."

Mayor Patterson commented "Most of us here who are my age or close to it had something that made us sleep at night, and they called it work." "The biggest problem is the parents who just don't give a damn." He added that there was a time when teenagers had respect and probably fear of their parents.

Sherman Resident Norman Rater mentioned that a lot of people have guns in their homes. He asked Holden about using deadly force to stop a criminal. Holden responded that the main reason for break-ins is people looking for drugs or drug money.

Holden said it is difficult to say exactly when deadly force would be justified because each case must be judged individually according to the New York Penal code. If a person uses deadly physical force, they are going to go before a grand jury, he said. "If you feel in your heart of hearts that a person is going to kill you, you can defend yourself," he added.

After the meeting Patterson said he was greatly disappointed in the outcome of the meeting. "Sherman Village has 732 residents and the town has twice that. I counted 49 people at the meeting," he said.

Patterson noted that when residents were asked to raise their hands if they would be willing to become involved in a watch program, only two hands went up. "As far as this coming to fruition, I don't see it happening," he said.



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