PA’s neighborhood watch groups keep city safe

Neighborhood watch groups are touted as the eyes and ears of the police department.

Their members drive through different areas of town reporting suspicious activity to police and typically meet on a regular basis.

Jeff Coley, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffing Park, a branch of the Port Arthur Neighborhood Action Council, regularly patrols his watch and actively works to remove graffiti with ‘good old elbow grease.’

When asked why he takes part in the work, his answer was simple.

“Why not?” Coley said. “I’m interested in keeping the neighborhood around me nice and clean and possibly stopping illegal activity around there that could lead to a possible crime. We are strictly the eyes and ears for the police department.”

Jeff Coley, member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffing Park, speaks into his radio prior to patrolling a neighborhood. Mary Meaux/The News

Jeff Coley, member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffing Park, speaks into his radio prior to patrolling a neighborhood.
Mary Meaux/The News

Wearing a red baseball cap with the logo of CCOGP and a reflective vest with the same logo on back, Coley typically patrols an area from 32nd Street to Gulfway Drive and Twin City Highway to Lombardy Avenue as well as some of Ninth Avenue.

But on a recent sunny morning Coley headed to an area off Seventh Street in the Lakeview area of town where an AT&T metal box was covered in gang related graffiti.

 

Jeff Coley, member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffing Park, removes graffiti from an AT&T box. Mary Meaux/The News

Jeff Coley, member of the Concerned Citizens of Griffing Park, removes graffiti from an AT&T box.
Mary Meaux/The News

Port Arthur Police Officer Mike Hebert, who works with community policing and street crimes, was on hand deciphering the meaning behind the layers of gang tags. The number ’13,’ representing the Surenos Mexican street gang was placed first. Then came rival ‘14’ representing the Nortenos, or Norte, Mexican gang. Norte’s call their rival gang ‘scraps’ and the images of ‘SK’ meaning ‘scrap killer was also on the metal box. Lastly, on top of it all was the ‘13’-symbol spray painted in black.

“Graffiti is the worst,” Coley said. “I hate it. It reminds me of a dog marking its territory.”

Coley got out of his vehicle and first took pictures of the graffiti before breaking out special cleaning fluids, a cloth and brush. Soon he was scrubbing away at the layers.

“This is a prime example of what they (neighborhood watch group members) do,” Hebert said.

Port Arthur Police Officer Mike Hebert, far left, speaks to neighborhood watch group members at a recent meeting. Mary Meaux/The News

Port Arthur Police Officer Mike Hebert, far left, speaks to neighborhood watch group members at a recent meeting.
Mary Meaux/The News

An anti-graffiti unit, which is all volunteer, is led by Henry Barbosa of the Concerned Citizens of Pear Ridge group and Coley.

“The Lakeview area was under control but now it’s (graffiti) coming back. As winter progresses into spring and summer we’ll start hitting it again,” the officer said of future clean-ups as gang activity is directly related to crime.

Hebert explained the history of PANAC and the 11 related groups spread across the city.

The neighborhood watch groups came together in the 1990s, formed by a grant during the Clinton administration as a way to “put more than 100,000 more police officers on the street” that spun off into the Community Oriented Police Services program. The city received grants and officers were trained on community policing, each officer assigned to a specific area of the city.

“The program peaked during the Elroy Chester murders. People wanted to protect their neighbors so they would go out and patrol the streets,” he said.

Elroy Chester, convicted serial killer and rapist, terrorized the community in the late 1990s and confessed to killing five people. He was executed in 2013 for the murder of Port Arthur firefighter Willie Ryman III.

By 2007 the PAPD Street Crimes Unit and Community Policing joined forces. The PANAC members still go out to their respective areas and still report suspicious activity.

“The people of Port Arthur aren’t shy, they’ll tell you what they’re thinking,” Hebert said. “That’s one plus we’ve always had, they’re not going to hold anything back and definitely speak their minds which is very, very important.”

Groves City Marshal Norman Reynolds Jr. said the city doesn’t have an organized group at this time. In previous years there were community watch meetings where residents would meet with officers face to face and discuss issues as well as being updated on crime trends.

“We have less participation than we used to,” Reynolds said of the meetings.

Instead there are a number of active Internet crime groups.

Port Neches is in a similar situation. There are several groups in the city that meet on-again and off-again but more is done on social media.

Nederland Police Chief Darrell Bush said there was once a neighborhood watch group but it is no longer active.

Should a person be interested in starting a neighborhood watch group police would be available to answer any questions, Bush said.

“We will assist them and tell them how to handle things and what a neighborhood watch entails,” Bush said. “A neighborhood watch group is beneficial to a city. Any citizen involvement that assists us in the apprehension of criminals is beneficial.”

E-mail:mary.meaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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