About 25 Highland Park residents gathered at Optimist Park Tuesday to talk about what they can do to stop a series of crimes in the area.
“We know what's been happening. What are we going to do to stop it from happening? ” Penny Velk, who organized the meeting, said at its beginning.
The meeting followed a string of crimes in Highland Park, ranging from arson to graffiti to broken windshields and burglaries.
Velk announced that the Havre Police Department has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, June 20, at 6 p. m. in the Havre Middle School Auditorium to talk to people about what officers can do to set up a Neighborhood Watch to prevent crimes like those that have been occurring, and to catch the perpetrators.
Havre Police Detective Ryan Pearson, the department’s community policing liaison, said this morning that the meeting will be to show people from the area how they would go about setting up a Neighborhood Watch.
Pearson reiterated a statement a representative of the department made to the Havre Daily News Monday that the crimes in Highland Park are under investigation and the department will not release information about the incidents.
He said he encouraged Highland Park residents to have a preliminary meeting to lay the groundwork and gauge interest in setting up a watch before he held a meeting with them.
The crowd at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to be very interested.
People said whoever is committing the crimes — speculation ranged from gang members to juveniles with too much time on their hands — seem to be very daring, with one commenting that while police were investigating one case of arson, the criminals were setting fire to more property just a block or two away.
Highland Park resident Angee Steir said she doesn’t think particular people are being targetted.
The perpetrators seem to be picking areas or items for their crimes because “it’s an easy target, ” Steir said.
The group discussed ways they could set up a watch, including dividing the region into areas with a watch captain in each area, setting up phone trees, putting out a newsletter, and, primarily, everyone looking out for each other.
“The thing that makes a Neighborhood Watch work is people talking to each other, ” Steir said.
Velk said that is something that seems to be lacking in modern society, something that needs to change.
“Today, we are so focused on ourselves and our own paths, we don’t look left or right, ” she said. “We have to protect each other. ”
She added that it will be key to talk to Pearson about what can be done. The community shouldn’t be looking to create a bunch of vigilantes, she said.
“We have to stay within the bounds of the law …, ” she said, adding, “We have to focus on what we can focus on — protecting our own neighborhood, our own yard — but we have to have somebody in everybody's neighborhood. ”
Velk said that that will mean people will have to get to know their neighbors.
“We need to know what is going on with each other, ” she said. “We need to be a focused unit that really cares about our neighborhood and each other. ”
Highland Park resident Carol Ortman said she has seen Neighborhood Watch programs work. Her sister in Washington helped start a very successful program some 30 years ago, Ortman said.
“This is a totally solvable problem with people banding together, ” she said.
Havre Police Community Policing Liaison Ryan Pearson will hold a meeting 6 p. m. Wednesday, June 20, at the Havre Middle School Auditorium about starting a Neighborhood Watch for Highland Park.