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Neighborhood Watch interest grows, but managing all the calls and tips a challenge

During CSPD staffing challenges, 600 Neighborhood Watch groups help safeguard their communities
Posted at 3:57 AM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-09 12:13:48-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In a growing city facing staffing challenges for patrol officers and emergency call takers, Neighborhood Watch programs are becoming even more important. News5 spoke with people being trained to help safeguard their Colorado Springs neighborhoods from crime as officers do their best to respond to all the concerns.

There are hundreds of streets and neighborhoods in Colorado Springs with active neighborhood watch programs. The goal is to provide neighbors and the cops with information about crime and suspicious activity. This is valuable information that you want to try to get into the hands of patrol officers quickly, but sometimes that’s a challenge.

Leading her neighborhood watch for the last decade, Susi Huntz has seen the difference a vigilant community can make.

”We’ve caught the copper bandits. My husband John actually recovered a stolen car that had a bunch of garage door openers in the back,” said Huntz.

”We’re in a busy world. We all get busy, so just look around,” urged Ron Bryant who has been a Neighborhood Watch Block Captain since 2016.

Since assuming that role Bryant says the opportunities for crooks have only increased, which led to some changes on his street.

”Pad locks. Anybody can get in your backyard and you don’t know it,” said Bryant. “If you’ve got cameras and they slip in through your backyard they’re in. They’re in and you’re at work. Lighting. Put your lights on timers, it’s not that hard to do.”

These are just a couple of examples of the roughly 600 neighborhood watch efforts going on in Colorado Springs.

”We do it street by street and block by block, so the more the better,” said Colorado Springs Police Department Crime Prevention Officer M.J. Thomson.

Thomson helps to train, background check, and respond to block captains who have partnered with the police department. 

”With just my block captains, about 240 give or take, I field between emails and phone calls (and it’s not a complaint) but I may average about 150 to 200 a day,” said Thomson. “That’s good stuff again because they are providing us information, but to be able to respond to every single one of those and give them the attention they need, we’ve got to make sure we can do that.”

Neighborhood Watch block captains tell News5 they understand the staffing challenges for patrol officers, so they’re urging neighbors to share information to help avoid crimes in the first place.

”Give me descriptions of the car, the license plate, the person, what were they wearing? So, I can put this out to the neighborhood,” Huntz tells her neighbors.

The need for call takers in the 911 center right now only adds to those challenges. So neighborhood watch leaders have to be intentional about the calls they’re making, both emergency and non-emergency.

”They are trained on that so we are not overwhelming our dispatch center because they are down almost 40 employees I believe,” said Thomson.

”The non-emergency line, are you going to be put on hold? Probably,” said Bryant. “Will they get to you? Absolutely. Will they have an officer come racing out? Probably not.”

Work is happening to try to recruit more call takers to lessen the non-emergency line wait times and the workload for crime prevention officers, but one woman’s neighborhood watch call serves as an example of the difference these calls make.

”It was a very large illegal marijuana grow with a lot of weapons and a lot of marijuana packaged to be distributed out of state,” said Thomson. ”Unfortunately we don’t have the proactive ability to go out and just cruise those neighborhoods. So without her being vigilant and noticing that we might have never found that.”

There are many ways for members of our community to answer the call in this situation either as a dispatcher or leader of a local neighborhood watch. For information about these opportunities or to apply…

To learn about openings in the Colorado Springs 911 center visit https://coloradosprings.gov/police-department/page/communication-center-positions

Also, to learn more about the need for dispatchers and the challenging, but rewarding career you can check out this coverage by News5's Bill Folsom.

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