When Connie Squires found out that a home near her neighborhood was emptied by people in a strange white van, she had had enough.

In 2008, she began to plan her own block watch to prevent future crimes from happening.

“A neighbor across the street left his garage door open a little too long and his bicycle, that was worth a little over $3,000, was taken and a home that was just outside of our block watch area was emptied in the daylight hours,” Squires said.

The block watch began in May 2010 after a series of crimes left Squires and others in the community angry and willing to make a change in public safety.

“I was elated to find 41 residents in 41 different homes that were willing to participate,” Squires said. “That particular year of 2010 to 2011, our crime rate went to zero.”

After a block watch advisory meeting with Chad Williamsen, a Phoenix police officer, the city agreed to expand the area of the block watch to more than 250 homes.

“It is difficult for the core team that I have developed to cover all of those homes in addition to the ones that we already have,” Squires said.

She has a core team that she’s in constant contact with in the planning process of the block watch. Squires’ block watch does not organize patrols with police, instead it focuses on constantly keeping an eye out on the neighborhood and people’s homes for suspicious activity.

“Every time they go out their front door, they use their eyes and ears to try to find any wrongdoing anywhere, whether it be vandalism in our commons area for example,” Squires said.

Members of the block watch attend the block party that happens once a year in their neighborhood.

“It is a basic requirement to be an official block watch member in the city of Phoenix,” Squires said.

G.A.I.N., Getting Arizona Involved in Neighborhoods, makes sure that every established block watch has a day that is dedicated to celebration, speeches and presentations from a representative of the Phoenix neighborhood patrol.

“Speeches are made to bring members up to date on what the crime level in our area has been in the past year,” Squires said.

The block watch has helped residents in the neighborhood during crises.

“In the year prior to that, we had a group of block watch members out on the street searching for a lost 6-year-old boy,” Squires said. “Forty-seven minutes after I sent an email alert out to block watch members, one of them found him.”

At the block watch party this year, the group is providing safety equipment like fire extinguishers and “No Solicitation” signs to homes in the neighborhood that need it.

“‘No Solicitation’ signs sounds a bit unfriendly, but we were getting all kinds of people knocking on doors and windows,” Squires said. “These are strange people to us that are trying to sell anything or trying to get money for magazines that residents don’t want.”

The block watch group has even influenced the police department to write a new code for public safety in order to prevent solicitors and crimes from reoccurring in their neighborhood.

“I was determined to make the neighborhood crime free and safe for absolutely everyone to walk about our neighborhood at any hour of the day or night,” Squires said.

• Angela Crusco is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.

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