The 162-member Oakwood Trails Neighborhood Watch is one of the largest and most active neighborhood watch programs in Clayton, home to about 180 such groups. Oakwood Trails’ thriving anti-crime and community resource program has garnered the respect of county law enforcement and public safety officials as well as financial support from a regional nonprofit.
“They’re doing well,” said Clayton County Police Sgt. Vincent Wooden, who oversees the county’s neighborhood watch programs. “They try to handle as much as they can before calling the police.”
“We don’t have the problems we started out with. We practically have no crime in the neighborhood. The neighborhood watch has brought about unity because we look out for each other,” said Carol Yancey, Oakwood Trails’ neighborhood watch coordinator.
Law Enforcement Collaborates with Residents
Clayton County Neighborhood Watch Programs are having a positive impact in communities throughout Clayton County. At a recent community meeting, Clayton police officials stressed to those in attendance that they could not fight crime alone. They need the help of Clayton residents.
“Neighborhood watches and increased involvement within neighborhoods does decrease crime,” Wooden said. “Neighborhood watches are growing throughout the nation. I’ve been here 10 years, and neighborhood watches (in Clayton) have been going strong ever since I’ve been here.”
Historic Rex Mill Village has seen the benefits of having a neighborhood watch program as well. The community was having trouble with mattresses, broken furniture and other items being dumped in the neighborhood. But resident and neighborhood watch member, Gayle Beddingfield took a photo of the suspicious activity. Although the picture didn’t capture the truck’s tag, word spread to keep a lookout for the vehicle. Another neighborhood watch member later spotted the truck at a gas station and reported it to police who arrested the culprit. Police later learned the guy had been paid to dispose of the items legally, but instead drove the trash from Henry County and illegally dumped his haul in Clayton, Wooden said.
Networking is Key
Beddingfield said “networking is key” to the success of the Historic Rex Village’s neighborhood watch program, which is called Step Up Rex. Beddingfield and her husband Jerry founded the program about 17 years ago.
“It’s not like it used to be when I was a kid. Everybody sat on their front porch, and you’d talk to your neighbors,” she said. “Now you don’t have that interaction with your neighbors. That’s why social media is very important to help stay on top of what’s going on in your community.”
The group relies heavily on texts, emails, and Facebook posts. The group also hosts community activities, sponsoring several events a year, including community yard sales and a Spring Fling.
“I appreciate how the Clayton Police department and community affairs work diligently to let us know what’s going on,” Beddingfield said. “It’s very important when a major incident or some type of crime occurs to let the taxpayers and residents know what’s going on.”
A longtime Clayton resident, Beddingfield said having the program in her community of about 20 residents “helps tremendously.”
From Detering Crime to Helping Neighbors
Oakwood Trails’ neighborhood watch has moved away from being just an anti-crime group to focusing more on helping the community. The group holds fundraisers and provides food and other assistance to neighbors who fall on hard times. Each year in July, the group hosts an annual block party that draws hundreds of people, including law enforcement and public safety personnel and county dignitaries. In addition to games and pony rides, school supplies are distributed.
“It’s grown from just a block party for neighbors to an event where you can get resources,” Yancey said.
Impressed with the group, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta gave Oakwood Trails an $8,000 grant to further its work. The group was one of 16 out of 40 applicants to get grants.
Oakwood Trails and Historic Rex Village aren’t the only ones seeing results.
Last month, residents in another Clayton community posted online how “Neighborhood Watch does work!!!” They relayed how police were able to track down a suspected burglar with the help of witnesses. The suspect was charged with a series of crimes.
“It’s a wonderful tool to have to be able to reach out to your neighbors and keep an eye out,” Beddingfield said. “Neighborhood Watch gives (neighbors) peace of mind.”
Here’s How You Can Start A Neighborhood Watch in Your Community
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Survey your neighborhood or subdivision to see if there is interest in starting a group. “A lot of people think you need a whole village to start a neighborhood watch, that’s a misconception,” Wooden says.
- Have a preliminary meeting with those who are interested to understand the priorities for the area and develop questions for law enforcement.
- Request a meeting with the Clayton County Community Affairs Unit, 770-477-3523. Ask for Sgt. Vincent Wooden.
- Clayton County’s Neighborhood Watch Program is divided into four geographical sectors. Each has its own assigned officer.
For more information about this and other community activities and events, there’s a free app for Apple (Apple store) and Android (Google Play) products called Clayton County PD. The app has an American flag with a blue line with the Clayton County Police Department seal in the flag. The app gives you access to news bulletins, code enforcement information and the county’s website.