By Mary O’KEEFE
On Tuesday night, up and down Sycamore Avenue neighbors spoke with neighbors. They would stop by homes that offered cookies, music and good conversation. At the Ralphs Market parking lot tents were set up, ice cream was being eaten and kids got to meet firefighters and sheriff deputies. It sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting of small town life and in a way it was the perfect picture of the community. But beyond getting to know your neighbor this night had a goal of promoting safety and being proactive.
National Night Out began over 25 years ago as a way to bridge the community and law enforcement. It began with residents turning their porch lights on and meeting neighbors. Since then it has grown and expanded but the real goal remains the same: Neighbors meeting neighbors.
“It does work,” said Todd Hunt who was an organizer of his neighborhood’s NNO event on Sparr Heights and Vickers Drive.
Hunt added the partnering with police and residents has been valuable and allows residents to keep abreast of crime patterns in their neighborhood.
A table was set up on the corner with signs and brochures on starting a Neighborhood Watch. Residents stopped by to chat and share information about their area.
“This is a great response. We have had [several] Glendale Police officers stop by and Glendale Fire. Residents have walked up to see what is going on and even stopped as they drive by,” Hunt said.
Some had signed up for Neighborhood Watch that was a goal of the evening throughout Crescenta Valley. At Ralph’s market booths that included Community Emergency Response Team [CERT], Montrose Search and Rescue, Los Angeles County Fire and Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station.
Parents were able to have their young children fingerprinted as another way of identification if the unthinkable happened and a child goes missing. There was also a sign up sheet for those interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch program in their area.
“This was very successful,” said Sgt. Mike Brandriff.
He said the response to the Neighborhood Watch program and the overall event was positive.
“Having it here [in Ralph’s parking lot] was a good way to get people to stop by,” he added. “There were a lot of different organizations that had booths here.”
One of the most active Neighborhood Watch programs within Crescenta Valley is along Sycamore Avenue, just below Honolulu Avenue.
“We have a great neighborhood,” said Doris Stewart, Sycamore neighbor. “We had about 20 tables [along the avenue].”
Earlier in the evening residents walked the eight blocks along the Neighborhood Watch area of Sycamore then at 8 p.m. they met at the Twelve Oaks Lodge, an assistant living facility, for a raffle drawing and wrap-up party.
Julia Leeper, a Neighborhood Watch block captain for the area, said the event was very successful and plans to hold another next year.
“I started with Neighborhood Watch 15 years ago. I just went door to door and introduced myself to my neighbors,” she said. “For many I was the only one in the neighborhood they knew.”
Through emails Leeper keeps residents informed about special events in the area as well as advice on safety tips for their homes.
“We have meetings and my husband is a locksmith so he will talk on the best locks for doors,” she said.
There were about 100 people that participated at Twelve Oaks and that means 100 people know each other and can watch out for each other, she said.
The watch is now going beyond being proactive about crime to preparing for disasters. They are working on a plan of response for fire and earthquakes.
Leeper said she knows events like NNO and the watch program works.
“The other day a young girl called me to say she had seen someone suspicious looking in the windows of homes. I told her to go home right away and I called the police,” Leeper said.
That type of awareness can stem crime as well as keep neighbors informed of suspicious activity in the area.
Leeper has never been one to sit back and watch or say I should have done something. She recalls a few years ago driving by a young woman who appeared to have been abused. She was emotional and standing by a man who may have been the abuser.
“I pulled over and asked her if she needed a ride. I told her she didn’t have to be [hurt],” Leeper said.
Now she walks around her neighborhood always aware of her surroundings and never hesitates to call law enforcement or to inform her neighbors of any danger.
This type of proactive Neighborhood Watch program is what Glendale Officer Matt Zakarian would like to see in all local neighborhoods. He has been making a big push on getting block captains signed into the organization and is willing to answer any questions about the program.
“This is just great,” he said of the Sycamore and other Glendale events of the evening. “To get Twelve Oaks involved is a great way to reach out.”
For information on Neighborhood Watch in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County in La Crescenta contact Deputy Jorge Valdivia, (818) 236-4021. For information on the program in the Crescenta Valley/Glendale area contact Officer Matt Zakarian at (818) 249-8173.