Winooski neighbors take a bite out of crime - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Winooski neighbors take a bite out of crime

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Police are warning that with warmer weather, more thieves could be out and about casing your home. But Winooski has a secret weapon -- neighborhood watches. They started less than a year ago and they're helping police get results.

"I love Winooski," said P.J. Benoit. "It's great, there's something about Winooski that's just charming." But the longtime resident says Winooski's charms wore thin last summer, when burglaries in the city jumped.

"I was frustrated because you never knew who was going to be next," Benoit said.

Her house was not one of those hit, but she and dozens of other Winooski residents took their worries to the website, Front Porch Forum.

"Understandably they were upset about the number of burglaries that were happening," said Winooski Police Sgt. Mike Cram.

Sgt. Cram says the department was getting "creamed" online. "So I put a message on Front Porch Forum that we were going to have a meeting to discuss the forming of neighborhood watch groups," he said.

"This is serious, it's no game," Benoit said.

Dozens responded, and by October there were four groups in the city.  PJ Benoit became the leader of her neighborhood watch. "Any crime can happen to you, or your family. It's real, it's true, so you have to be prepared," she said.

Her group does meet in person each month, but the watch lives most actively on Facebook and Twitter. She puts out photos, police reports, research, and tips, aiming to help connect the community and burglar proof your home. "It's not about feeling safe, it's about being safe," she said.

"We've had numerous arrests for burglary," Sgt. Cram said.

And police say the extra vigilance is translating to results -- information from alert residents led to charges against three suspects in separate cases.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: All because somebody was looking out their window?

Sgt. Mike Cram:  All because somebody was watching their neighborhood and let us know the suspicious activity, and that's what we really need to make these arrests.

What neighborhood watch members look out for -- activity that seems out of place. Someone parked and idling in a vehicle for a long time. A stranger wandering around backyards. Peeking in windows or knocking on doors and asking for someone who does not happen to live there -- a classic way to see if someone is home. "We're interested in what the person is doing, not if the person is wearing younger person clothes... or fits any stereotypes," Sgt. Cram said.

A community connecting to make a difference. "Because the more people you know, the more it's like a family, so it feels that way now," Benoit said.

More Winooski neighborhoods are getting organized. Soon there will be eight neighborhood watches in the city.

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