Saturday, August 29th, a New Town Virtual Talk sponsored by the NTRA Activities Committee took place, well attended and overflowing with expert advice and safety information. Speaker Alan McDowell, James City County’s Mid-County Safety Officer, has been with the Community Services Unit of James City County as a Crime Prevention Officer for nearly 30 years. A native of Richmond, his career has been remarkably comprehensive with positions ranging from patrol officer and firearms instructor to S.W.A.T. and Defensive Tactics instructor, to name only a few. Little wonder his virtual talk was filled will eye-opening information and useful tips to safeguard life in New Town.
Office McDowell began the talk by reminding attendees of the county’s free alert app, James City County Alert, whereby county officials are able to deliver emergency alerts and notifications to those who have signed up for the service. All residents need do is search for the app online by its name and sign up as directed.
Officer McDowell encouraged residents to create a safer home environment for themselves and for their families by using a Personal Safety Risk Reduction Plan. This risk reduction plan consists of 6 key areas that, once assessed and addressed, significantly reduces a resident’s susceptibility to becoming a victim of crime. Those areas are as follows:
- Drapes and Shades: While light-weight drapes may be fine for during the day, heavy drapes will better conceal interior activities in the home during the evening hours;
- Lighting: Lighting deters crime. Strategically place exterior lighting and assess lighting regularly. Keep lights clean and free of bugs, making certain lights are in clear view and not obstructed by greenery or equipment of any kind. Install motion-sensor lights for evening and nighttime. Sensor lights, once activated, draw attention to an activity taking place—and are far more cost-effective than leaving exterior lights on until morning;
- Landscaping: Keep bushes and tree canopies trimmed, the latter at least 6 feet from the ground. This is especially necessary for bushes and trees near windows or close to doorways to prevent criminals from hiding from sight. “Natural surveillance,” is a great deterrent. Your neighbors or people walking by will be able to alert you or the police of suspicious activity and the potential for a crime taking place.
- Spare Keys: Keep spare keys well hidden. Using ceramics (a bunny, frog, faux-rock, etc.) made specifically to hide door keys is not advised. Criminals shop in the same stores as residents do. They know what these ceramics hold. It is better to bury spare keys in the ground and mark the area for quick retrieval. If ceramics are desired, ask your neighbor to use the same –and switch keys. The criminal may retrieve the key in your ceramic but will fail at gaining access to your home;
- Timers: Use timers for your lights, TV, and radio while you are away from your home, but time them according to what your living schedule has been. Criminals survey homes to see what a person or family’s habits are. Timing patterns should mimic your habits when you are at home—and remember to keep timers in working condition. Test batteries often.; and
- Keeping Friends and Families Informed of Your Whereabouts: Always let a family member or a friend know where you are going and when you will be returning. A phone call or text upon leaving and returning is strongly advised.
In addition to the individualized safety plan above, Officer McDowell spoke at length about the importance of residents working together to make for a community undesirable to criminals. Report suspicious behavior of individuals as soon as possible; do not wait for others to do so. Question the appearance of strangers you have not seen in the neighborhood before. Loitering is difficult to prevent—but suspicious behavior can always be called in, regardless. Call 757-566-0112 to do so. Do not wait for someone else to report a street lamp that has died out. (Note: A simple phone call to Town Management or submitting an issue report on the NTRA website to report the street lamp number, clearly visible on every light in New Town, is all it will take.) In addition, work to maintain your property, keeping doors, windows, and locks in sound working order and making every effort to see that your property is well cared for. A neighborhood with broken or compromised windows and doors, property looking neglected or rundown, or with residents who fail to challenge unusual behavior or individuals will be sure to attract criminals and become targets for crime. Working with your neighbors in all these areas will make for a strong community where little crime occurs.
Some time was spent during the talk on the recent vehicle break-ins in New Town. Officer McDowell greatly emphasized the importance of cultivating the habit of (1) keeping car windows up, (2) car doors locked, and (3) things of value out of sight—all the time. Valuables in plain sight will draw criminals to your car, whether your car is open or not. The best place for valuables, i. e. laptops, purses, and cell phones, is in your trunk. In addition to keeping your car and valuables safe, Officer McDowell also stressed the importance of keeping yourself safe by observing your car as you approach it to enter. Is a window broken? Do you see sneakers underneath the car, indicating someone is crouching on the other side? Try to park in well-lighted areas and keep your keys in your hand as you near your vehicle—being careful, if you have a remote access key, not to unlock all your doors. And have a plan in mind for a potential attack as you are walking towards your car, wherever it is parked. “Advance Techniques” are key to keeping you safe. A plan will keep you from panicking. Without a plan, panic may make you a victim of crime. A wise preventative is storing an old, inactive cell phone in a glove compartment as it will enable you to call 911 for an emergency you may suddenly find yourself in. In addition, if you suspect your car or home has been broken into, call the police immediately—and refrain from destroying the crime scene by entering and touching evidence. Call the police and keep yourself safe. It is a county service we are all paying for. Note: Most residents do not know that 911 may be called for non-emergency issues.
In response to concerns voiced by participants during the Q&A period, Officer McDowell also committed to ask the JCC police to monitor speeds on Casey Boulevard and watch whether drivers are heeding the stop signs at the intersection of New Town Avenue and Discovery Boulevard.
Free County Crime Prevention Resources
Officer McDowell shared several of the free crime prevention services available to residents through the county—and two, national data bases for conducting crime and offender searches at any local:
James City County Services:
Project Life Saver—free location devices for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia;
Citizen Police Academy—a once a week, 2-hour session for 13 weeks offering citizens insight into how our police department functions;
Child ID Services;
Crime and Safety Prevention Assessments—free home assessment programs;
Rape, Aggression, and Defense (RAD) Classes--training people in the use of force to prevent abduction (www.rad-systems.com); and
RAD for Kids
National Crime and Offender Databases:
LexisNexis Community Crime Map (www.communitycrimemap.com) --a national data base of crimes by their nature, date, time, and location anywhere in the United States. Just enter your street address, and the information will appear charted on a map of your area. Useful for trips and relocation. Data reloads every Friday night; and
Victim Information and Notification Everyday—VINE Link (www.vinelink.com)-- a national data base of offenders which allows victims of crime and the general public to track the movements of prisoners held by various states and territories. Notifications can be set-up to inform the public of prisoner release dates. (VINEmobile is the app version of VINE)
Please feel free to contact Office Alan McDowell if you have further questions about New Town safety or would like more information about any of the programs or services listed above. His phone number is 757-603-6026, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org