Georgia O’Connor talks about Neighborhood Watch

I live in the 4th Ward and have been to many meetings of the Neighborhood Watch at St. Stan’s on Cornell Street. Georgia O’Conner was helpful for me last year when I was dealing with the so called “energy workers,” who with their dubious badges, started hassling me at my home. I have seen her work her way around various complainers at various meetings, never losing her composure and always finding solutions to those who needed them. We sat down Monday morning over coffee.

Georgia O’Connor. Photo provided.      

Compass: What is your official title?

O’Conner: Liaison for the Amsterdam Neighborhood Watch.

Compass: The fourth ward or the whole thing?

O’Connor: Well, we don’t have a huge Neighborhood Watch in other areas of the city, so I’m taking on not just the fourth ward but some of the rest of it as well, just until we can get those other groups going too.

Compass: How long have you been the liaison?

O’Connor: I started coming to the meetings, I would say, about four years ago, and I was a block captain and started as liaison around last spring.

Compass: So what prompted you to go to the meetings and then volunteer?

O’Connor: I’ve always believed it was important to give back to the community that I’m a part of, and I love this city and I want to keep it safe. There’s a lot of negative connotation out there about Amsterdam, especially from the surrounding areas. They sometimes view Amsterdam as the big city with a lot of big crime, and I wanted to find out if that was true and what we needed to do to fix it.

Compass: Are you an Amsterdam native?

O’Connor: I was born in Amsterdam, but then I grew up in Johnstown. I moved several places around the country and came back to Amsterdam in 2009.

Compass: Tell me how you feel about Amsterdam and it’s residents.

O’Connor: I love Amsterdam. I think Amsterdam has huge potential. I think, right now, it’s kind of a diamond in the rough. It’s got this beautiful geographic location, close to so many amazing cities, and I think we have the opportunity to be one of those amazing cities. And in terms of the residents, I love the people that live here. I run into wonderful people all the time that I’ve never met before, at the grocery store or Dunkin Donuts. I’ve found it to be a very warm, welcoming community.

Compass: Is that what keeps you interested in volunteering?

O’Connor: That and I have three children and I live in Amsterdam and I want it to be a safe place for us. I think there’s no ideal community where there is no crime ever but one of the things I love so much about where I live, especially compared to other places I went in my life, is that my neighbors here watch out for me all the time. They call me up if there’s a strange car parked in front of my house. My neighbors have just been spectacular. I want to be a good neighbor too, and so I am trying to do that too, not only for the people who are in my neighborhood but for the entire city. We’re all neighbors.

Compass: What does an average day look like to you?

O’Connor: (Laughs) My days are pretty crazy. I have three kids, and they are amazing. My days are like “get ’em up, get ’em to school” I have a business in the city and I have appointments all day long. When the kids are done with school I pick them up. Then we have after school activities, then dinner and bed. So, there’s not a lot of extra room in there, but you know the Neighborhood Watch is a passion of mine, so I really make time to make that happen.

Compass: What are your future plans in terms of living in Amsterdam?

O’Connor: I don’t really have any plans to go anywhere, anytime soon. My future plans are to just keep helping Amsterdam grow into the beautiful city it can be again. I love the school my kids are in, and they love it, so I have no plans other than staying put.

Compass: What will be the topics of discussion at the next meeting?

O’Connor: At the next meeting I actually have the Amsterdam Police Department bringing in the K-9 Unit, and they are going to give a demonstration with the dog and talk about how that works. If someone sees a drug deal going on, the K-9’s can help with that and [show] what other capacity we use the K-9’s for. We all see where they stop a person who is running, by sicking a dog on them, but there is a lot more to that unit than just that. So, they are going to demonstrate that for us.

I also want to talk about how we can increase our numbers in areas where we don’t have a lot of participants. There are definite areas where I would like to focus on and get people involved in the Neighborhood Watch. And I think a lot of people have in their heads that [in Neighborhood Watch] we’re out there patrolling the streets ourselves and it’s not really that. It’s really a commitment to watch out for your neighbors and call the police if you see something; to not have fear rule the decision to make a phone call.

I think that is the most dangerous thing a city can have is apathy, the willingness to turn your head and look the other way. I think that’s more dangerous than any drug, any crime ring, any gang.

The good people outnumber the criminals, and if they can all just make that commitment to watching out for one another, being a good neighbor, I think that would be huge. That’s one of the things I want to talk about. How do we get more people to make that commitment, to be a part of this, and join us as we watch out for one another?

I also want to talk about [how] Neighborhood Watch is not a meeting to air all your grievances and walk out and do nothing….

Compass: I’ve been to several of those meetings.

O’Connor: Yes! That’s not what I want it to be. That’s not what it should be. That’s not what it’s intended to be. When they are airing their grievances, they act like there is some committee or board that is sitting in the room that can take care of those issues. There’s really not. We are coming together as citizens saying “we’re not happy about this,” and determining how we are going to fix it. It’s really more a call to personal action, than to complaining to someone else. And, even though we are very lucky to have a detective there, usually, or a Sargent or the Chief of Police.

If we say we’ve seen this activity on the street –  that’s going on here – they love that information. They don’t know this information until we tell them, and that is more eyes and ears for the police department…So, I want to talk about, that’s not what it’s intended to be. What can I, as a citizen, do to help. That’s what I want to focus on. And at the next meeting [after this one], can I jump to the next meeting?

Compass: Sure.

O’Connor: And at the next meeting, the thing I really want to talk about is some of the wonderful things going on in this community that people aren’t aware of like Wish1ful Thinking, the Creative Connections Arts Center, the program that’s at Bacon School. There are a lot of programs for youth out there that are just in their infancies, that are already making huge differences in the lives of our young people, and all of us…I want people to know what’s going on and what we can do to support these programs.

Compass: Thank You.

The next meeting of the Neighborhood Watch is going to be held on Wednesday, February 26 at 6:30 pm at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Cornell St., Amsterdam, NY.
(Facebook event link)

Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.