Vincennes City Police Chief Bob Dunam is urging residents to join the city’s recently revitalized Neighborhood Watch Program.
Though all but completely absent in recent years, Vincennes once had a thriving neighborhood network of concerned residents.
Dunham, during his first stint as chief, founded the program with then Vincennes mayor Terry Mooney in 2001.
“We started out with a couple of sites, and when I left the chief’s office in December of 2007, we had about seven Neighborhood Watch Programs going,” Dunham said.
When done well, having residents keep a watchful eye over their individual neighborhoods has shown to produce results.
Community watch programs most typically help thwart residential burglaries, but according to the National Institute of Justice, the neighborhood programs also significantly reduce instances of car theft and vandalism, too.
“Generally, we have six officers patrolling the roads at a time. That’s only twelve eyes watching the entire city,” Dunham said. “So if we can get neighbors to watch — the more sets of eyes the better.”
In fact, Dunham gives some credit to the previously thriving Neighborhood Watch Program for a reduction in the crime rate near the end of his previous term as chief.
“My last year as chief was the only year when our number of service calls went down. Our numbers were lower in 2007 than in 2000,” he said.
What made the previous watch program so effective, Dunham says, was the collaboration between police officers, residents and local leaders and department heads.
He hopes to see that commitment from all necessary parties once again.
“Mayor Mooney and I went to every meeting, and local officials and department heads that had a hand in correcting the problems attended as well,” he said.
“I think that’s what it takes to make this work. It’s important that people interested in the program know they’ll have the backing of the city and the police department.”
Though VPD has been poised to restart the Neighborhood Watch Program with interested residents, the emergence of COVID-19 has complicated those efforts.
“The COVID situation has really hampered our efforts of trying to hold meetings face-to-face,” he said.
VPD identified two potential neighborhood meeting sites early in the year, but because of virus concerns they are currently holding meetings only at City Hall and only as one combined group.
“We had a group that would meet at Jamestown (Square Apartments), but due to the increased COVID risks and because of the age of most of the residents, we have not started meetings back up there at this time,” Dunham said.
Though only currently meeting once a month as a combined group, the chief says this is a starting point.
“We don’t like consolidating everything into one meeting,” he said. “It’s important to identify separate neighborhoods and to let people know that they mean as much to the community as any other neighborhood.”
As more residents across the city take an active interest in neighborhood watch, VPD will begin to identify neighborhood zones and independent watch groups. It’s at that point that the police department will also begin installing signage to indicate that the area is closely monitored by citizens.
“We will want everybody to know — be it criminals or people looking to move into Vincennes — that there is an active group of neighbors watching out,” said Dunham.
Too, he says, VPD recognizes that some residents may not be able to attend a monthly meeting at City Hall, for lack of transportation, so separating into neighborhood zones is important.
Having a true Neighborhood Watch Program means providing an opportunity for all to be involved in their own sections of town, and ideally, meetings would be within walking distance of each person’s home.
Residents interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch Program in their area are encouraged to call the chief directly.
“Call and ask for me. If I’m not there, I will call back. We really want to help get people this started,” Dunham said.
Even without formalized watch groups, the police department says residents can still be active in protecting their neighborhoods simply by practicing the “see something, say something” motto, which is at the very core of block watch programs.
“We need our citizens to come out and watch. When the weather is nice, sit out on your porch. If that’s not possible, keep your blinds open so you can see out,” Dunham said.
And then, if a resident does notice suspicious activity, the chief says not to hesitate in calling the police.
“This gives the police department a reason to be in that location, and that’s what it takes — someone calling,” he said.
The next Neighborhood Watch Program meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at City Hall, 201 Vigo St. Those who cannot attend in person can access a live stream of the meeting through the department’s Facebook page.
For more information, call the Vincennes Police Dept. at 812-882-1630.