Approximately twenty people, including Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick, Lieutenant Tom Nethaway, and aldermen Ed Russo, Paul Ochal, Chad Majewski, and Jim Martuscello, met at the Lynch Literacy Academy on Monday night. The purpose of the meeting was to re-start the city’s neighborhood watch effort.
Georgia O’Connor, who has served as the liaison between the neighborhood watch and police department, and has been organizing meetings for approximately two years now, explained that there had not been a meeting since last November because she has had to tend to medical issues with her children. Although O’Connor said she could use more help, she is now ready to continue to plan regular meetings.
“Neighborhood watch is basically being a good neighbor,” said O’Connor at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s making a commitment that you are going to keep an eye on your neighbor and if you see something suspicious, if you see a crime in progress, you are not going to hesitate to turn in what you see, to call the police department immediately, to take as much information as possible, to train yourself to be a better reporter.”
O’Connor said that although the neighborhood watch has tried different structures in the past, including meeting as separate groups, or as one main group with offshoots, she felt that having one meeting for the entire city was the best way to continue.
She stressed that the purpose of the group was not to engage in “vigilante” activities, but rather to support the police department by watching and providing information.
“The program is a watcher program,” said Nethaway. “It’s to get the community to offer their eyes and help us interact with you guys to find problems in your areas. The structure of the unit, is what’s more important.”
One meeting attendee asked about what a member of the group was expected to do if, for instance, they witnessed a mugging in progress.
Culick responded, “Good citizens should do things to protect one another. If you see someone getting mugged, I would hope you would get involved, if you can do so safely. I don’t ever want you to put yourself in harm’s way. If you see someone has a gun, maybe the safest thing you can do at that point is to pick up the phone.”
Culick added that the department has received good information through neighborhood watch members in the past, especially on drug-related activity.
“Neighborhood watch has given us these tips and we’ve taken houses down based on that information,” said Culick.
However, he added, “It’s not always overnight.”
O’Connor said that she is open to the idea of having citizen patrols in the future, but said she didn’t think there was enough interest in the existing group to start yet and that the focus for now would be on building a communication network.
At the meeting, O’Connor introduced a membership application form which asks for basic address and contact information, and which would also be used by the police department to run an in-house background check on the applicant.
O’Connor explained that the check was necessary to “make sure we don’t have criminals trying to infiltrate the system.” She added, “It has happened in several of the neighborhood watches in the area.”
She clarified that the general public would still be welcome at public meetings, however, only approved members would be allowed in “closed meetings” where detailed information would be discussed.
“Meetings where we’re talking about a particular drug house [for example], I want to make sure that every member of neighborhood watch is safe, and that’s our main concern,” said O’Connor.
The application does not require a social security number. Culick explained, “We don’t do a full criminal check. We’ll check the sex offender registry, we’ll check our in-house records…we’re not authorized to run criminal histories on citizens.”
The next public meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 23 at 6pm at Lynch Literacy Academy.