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Published: Wednesday, 4/21/2010

East Toledo Block Watch groups gear up for the heat

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Whether patrolling on foot, on bicycle, or in vehicles - or from their windows and porches - Neighborhood Block Watch volunteers in East Toledo are preparing for more activity during warm weather months.

They also are dealing with having fewer Block Watch groups in East Side neighborhoods and just two Toledo Police Department community service officers to cover the entire city. East Toledo has five active Block Watch groups, down from 14 a few years ago.

"The one thing I want to do is build up Block Watches," said Timothy Allan, an East Toledo resident and Block Watch leader. "We don't take the place of the police - we cooperate with and help the police."

Said fellow East Toledo resident and Block Watch leader Robin Sopko: "If we all watch out for each other, even if we have less police, we'll be fine."

As part of Block Watch, volunteers, law enforcement, and other community services work together to make neighborhoods safer. Volunteers report suspicious activities in their neighborhoods to the police department, and community service officers serve as liaisons between the two.

Uncertainties with Toledo's budget cutbacks and police labor relations is causing some anxiety among Block Watch volunteers.

Yet Block Watch has dealt with membership and community service officer declines before, said Michael Dearth, citywide chairman of the Toledo Neighborhood Block Watch Program since 2003.

For much of last year, Toledo had no community service officers because they were reassigned after the city laid off 75 officers, Mr. Dearth said. There were no community service officers from 1982 to 1993, either, he said.

And while the city's 164 Block Watch groups are fewer than a high of 203 in 2007, it still is far more than the about 50 groups several years ago, Mr. Dearth said.

To help maintain effectiveness, changes have been made in reporting between Block Watch and police, Mr. Dearth said. Hotlines, for example, recently have been set up to handle Block Watch reports, he said.

"We're just trying to make sure we can get the information in," Mr. Dearth said.

Rental properties are especially a concern because renters typically are transients and not as concerned about the area, said longtime East Toledo resident Glen Cook, a Block Watch volunteer.

The city needs to be more proactive about making sure regulations are followed and crimes prevented, Mr. Cook said. He said he tries to check in with his neighbors and coordinate with them to remain vigilant.

"Once you become compassionate about what your neighbor's doing, you begin to care about what you can do," Mr. Cook said.

The Block Watch group Ms. Sopko leads, which is in the Raymer Elementary neighborhood, holds an open house every year with those from surrounding areas, including Mr. Allan's group. The open house is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 19 at Burnett Park, and the hope is to increase awareness and volunteers.

Mr. Allan, whose Block Watch group is in the Starr Avenue/Dover Place/Navarre Avenue area, said he plans to have guest speakers cover home security, concealed weapons carry, self-defense, and other personal safety topics at monthly meetings this year.

Residents should vary their routines and take turns with neighbors to keep a lookout, Mr. Allan said. "I tell people they've got to stay home as much as they can," he said. "That's how they can prevent burglaries."



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