Wellington Leaders Laud Neighborhood Watch Successes

Wellington’s Neighborhood Watch program has expanded over the years to include many more aspects than the original crime watch mission, which officials believe has resulted in the rejuvenation of some communities that were beginning to deteriorate.

Once a program run largely by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Neighborhood Watch has been embraced by the village to galvanize residents to help improve their own communities.

The village’s Community Services Department recently released a plan for Neighborhood Watch meetings that will reach nearly two dozen communities over the next three months.

“The Neighborhood Watch program has grown to include neighborhood engagement more than anything else, to include residents [and give them] an avenue to communicate with the village,” Director of Community Services James Poag said.

That communication works both ways, with the village also able to better communicate with residents, he added.

“In addition to being a deterrent for crimes in our neighborhoods, the primary focus of the Neighborhood Watch has shifted from a traditional crime watch program more to an engagement where the village can communicate and listen to the concerns of the residents,” Poag said. “It provides them an avenue and a stage where they can voice their concerns, and we can take those concerns and go to the appropriate departments to get things resolved in a timely manner.”

In addition, the village uses the Neighborhood Watch program as an incentive for neighborhoods to participate in improvement grants available through the Community Services Department.

“We’ve utilized Neighborhood Watch for revitalization purposes so that people can access the funding that we have for our neighborhood improvement grants,” Poag said.

Neighborhood Watch meetings scheduled include: Scribner in Olympia, Guilford, Wiltshire Village, Lakeside Shores, Stonegate, Black Diamond, Staghorn/Mulberry, Coventry Green, Channing Villas, Pine Valley, Greenbriar Circle, Summerwood Circle, Mayfair, Greenview Shores, Aero Club, Rye Terrace, Wisteria, Chatsworth Village and Folkestone/Yarmouth.

In addition, a joint meeting is set for May 18 for all the communities to meet together.

“This will be an opportunity for all the neighborhoods to share and engage with their neighbors throughout the village,” Poag said. “We’ll have a platform to share one overall topic at that particular meeting with all our Neighborhood Watch groups throughout the Village of Wellington.”

Senior Neighborhood Advocate Jonathan Salas said the Neighborhood Watch program still encourages participants to be extra eyes and ears and to report any activity to the PBSO that seems suspicious, and not try to take matters into their own hands.

“We give safety tips such as locking car doors, avoiding crimes of opportunity and things like that,” Salas said. “Typically, we segue into giving crime prevention tips.”

Poag said crimes of opportunity are not typically committed by hardened criminals but often by local teens.

“They check the doors, and if the doors are open, they’ll take whatever small items they can get their hands on and run off,” he said. “Education is the biggest tool to prevent these things from happening within our communities, and if we can continue to [inform] our Neighborhood Watch groups on how to protect themselves from these types of petty crimes, we can prevent those types of things from happening within the village.”

Salas said that village staff members have seen a tremendous turnaround in some Neighborhood Watch communities.

“In a lot of our neighborhoods, we can honestly say they are cleaner, the neighborhoods are upbeat, everyone is familiar with their neighbors, they know the protocol, they know the procedure,” Salas said. “If they see any suspicious behavior, they have the number to contact. We can honestly say that we’ve seen a drastic improvement in most of our neighborhoods.”

Poag said that the PBSO, which initiated and still participates in the Neighborhood Watch programs, has also expressed satisfaction with their effectiveness.

“They’ve actually seen how the Neighborhood Watch programs have been effective in helping them to deter those small types of unlocked-door crimes within the neighborhoods,” Poag said. “We collaborate with the PBSO in the Neighborhood Watch effort so that we can increase the number of residents engaged within the community.”

Poag said the success of the Neighborhood Watch program has been obvious.

“We’re very pleased with the program,” he said.

For more information about Wellington’s Neighborhood Watch program, call (561) 791-4764.