The interest in community-based law enforcement that drew nearly 100 people to the Havre Middle School Auditorium on Wednesday night coincides well with a number of initiatives the Havre Police Department is undertaking this year.
Following Police Chief Kirk Fitch, most of the speaking at the meeting was done by Detective Ryan Pearson.
Pearson, who has been with the Havre police force since 2009, was recently appointed the community policing liaison, in addition to his other investigative duties, to handle just these sort of situations, at least until the department’s new full-time community policing liaison graduates from the academy at the end of this month.
On Wednesday Pearson took questions from and offered advice to residents of Highland Park who are upset by the rash of theft, vandalism and arson that have stricken the neighborhood recently.
The first question concerned the wandering youths who are most likely to be responsible for these sorts of crimes.
Pearson explained the city’s curfew rules, which are a little complicated.
Minors under 13, on Sunday through Thursday nights must be home between 9 p. m. and 5 a. m. They must be home between 10:30 p. m. and 5 a. m. on all Friday or Saturday nights, or nights preceding holidays.
Minors from the ages of 13 to 17 must be home Sunday through Thursday nights between 10:30 p. m. and 5 a. m. They must be home between 12:30 and 5 a. m. Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.
Those hours are guidelines and exceptions can be taken into account in cases of employment or if the minor is on their way to “places of recreation, entertainment, education and worship, sports events, moving picture theaters, and drive-in theaters, youth centers and church services, and finally, the amount of time which should reasonably be spent to effect a return home from such places and functions. ”
Others asked about their rights to retain people caught red-handed. Fitch said that homeowners have the rights to do so, but he recommends leaving it to the police.
“They are usually younger, occasionally armed, ” Fitch said. “It’s not worth the property you’re trying to protect to try and apprehend them and wrestle around with them and you get injured.
“People get weird when they get scared. ”
That said, residents are legally entitled to hold perpetrators at gunpoint until officers arrive, Pearson said later.
Pearson told a concerned dog owner that “anyone can sue for anything. As long as it’s on your property and contained, you’re generally safe, but you never know. ”
Pearson then recommended that the neighborhood find out how best to divide up the Highland Park area into more specific Neighborhood Watch groups. His recommendation is to do it by north-south streets, with each street setting up its own watch captain.
These captains will be in charge of recruiting and organizing members of the watch, and talking with the other captains and the community policing liaison officer.
Pearson said he has training manuals, presentations and videos that he can share with the captains and that the captains can share with their watch members.
He also recommended http://www.USAonWatch.org as a good online resource.
But mostly he just recommends that people keep an eye out and, if they see anything, call the police department, in an emergency at 911, otherwise at the station’s main phone line, 265-4361.