Sunny Brae Neighbors Organize To Fight Crime
Kevin L. Hoover
SUNNY BRAE – A prime suspect has been arrested in the string of burglaries that has had Sunny Brae residents on edge for weeks, but the Arcata suburb’s guard is still up. on Thursday., March 28, about 50 ’Braers turned up for a crime prevention meeting organized by City Councilmember Susan Ornelas at Sunny Brae Middle School.
Ornelas prepared the school cafeteria tables with cards bearing the first names of Sunny Brae subdivision developer Chet Spiering’s family relations – which are the names he gave the neighborhood’s streets when he laid them out in the early 1950s.
Ornelas told attendees that the meeting was for informational purposes, not a neighborhood watch meeting or a “gripe session.” The goal was to “help you be an observant neighbor.”
She noted the increase in crime and petty theft, noting that it is “not unique to Arcata. It’s a state issue.” Due to state budget realignment, she said, “We can’t keep prop thieves locked up.”
Ornelas introduced APD volunteer Ginger Campbell, a “volunteer extraordinare” who helps organize Neighborhood Watch groups.
Three are operating in Sunny Brae, one in the Sunset area and another on I Street, with still more in the works.
Officer Anthony Fox, who trains the groups, said the groups’ usefulness goes beyond simple crime prevention. “You get to know your neighbors, what to do in an emergency, who needs medication and who has a chainsaw.”
The groups help spread awareness of other chronic neighborhood issues, including speeding vehicles and loose dogs.
“We’re doing really well city-wide,” Fox said.
Two blocks is the optimal size for a group, as it includes “a small nucleus of people” who can be well-connected.
The neighborhood watch groups are initiated by residents going door to door to solicit participation. Once five or six households are on board, that’s enough critical mass to contact Campbell or Fox at APD, (707) 822-2428, and get the ball officially rolling.
An initial starting meeting will include discussion of how to select leadership and basic crime reporting. With that, the group evolves.
Fox offers new groups a presentation in how to protect against property crimes, including burglaries.
“There’s always going to be someone who will burglarize or vandalize someone’s house,” Fox said. “Burglars don’t go away.”
A huge part of neighborhood watchfulness is simply making the leap to telling police what they see. Many residents likely spotted suspected burglar Timothy Dickinson’s gold Bravada in their ’hood around the time of the burglaries, but didn’t report it.
Doing so might have solved the cases much earlier, and prevented further crimes.
“If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t,” Fox said. “Police don’t mind coming out and looking around.”
And yet, police are just part of the crime prevention equation, especially once residents organize. “It’s really about helping each other,” Fox said. “Neighborhoods grow, have potlucks, barbecues, block parties.”
Lately, he said, the watch groups have been communicating among themselves, further adding effectiveness.
Fox affirmed that unless a criminal is violent, he or she will be released from jail in short order. “Most crimes are committed by small groups of people,” he said.
A woman said she hadn’t been aware of crime problems in Sunny Brae, or how to address them. She wondered what local news resources are available to keep citizens abreast of neighborhood news and crime prevention.
Resident Susan Anderson suggested the nextdoor.com online tool and the “Sunny Brae Crime Prevention Network” Facebook page.
Anderson cautioned against reporting rumors and false reports. “Be responsible,” she said.
Fox said burglars and vandals use a variety of methods. Some break windows, others knock down doors. Further, crooks fit no single profile. A burglar might be a traveler, a longtime resident or even a college student.
“It’s all over the board,” Fox said. “Burglaries are crimes of opportunity.”
Neighborhood Watch meetings might take place at the Library, in Redwood Park or private homes.
Initial gatherings tend to attract a large crowd, but participation then drops off as some residents assume others are handling the work. At that point, the committed core group emerges.
One man said that cannabis grow houses and the money they usually contain “seems to encourage break-ins and violence.”
“It can,” Fox affirmed. He said part of his presentation to the groups is identifying conditions that encourage breaks ins.
Attendee Kim Class said she has seen bicyclists casing cars as they rode slowly past her home. “I could feel that something was way off,” she said.
“That should be reported,” Fox said.
Ornelas advised that neighborhood watchers be observant for details that will help police. “Watch for unique things about people,” she said. “Look at shoes. They can toss away a jacket, but probably not shoes.” Unique features also include tattoos.