By Kirsten Swann
When Kathy Goins tried to start a neighborhood watch group on N. Bunn Street four years ago, it took her three tries before enough people showed up to make it official.
The next year, they held their first neighborhood watch picnic.
“We got together and we kind of bonded,” she said.
The Bunn Street watch is one of more than 200 neighborhood watches throughout Anchorage, but it’s the only group in Mountain View. There are about a half dozen homes in the patrol area. Goins — who organized the group along with Scott Kohlhaas in 2010 — said its members all keep an eye out for anything unusual on their street, and keep in touch through shared contact lists and annual cookouts. They all get to know each other a little better.
Ofc. Natasha Welch said that’s the whole idea.
“The basis of the neighborhood watch program is neighbors watching out for neighbors,” said Welch, who runs the program for the Anchorage Police Department.
It aims to cut back on property crime through increased awareness, and forming a watch group is relatively straightforward. According to APD, organizers must designate a patrol area and schedule a time for a presentation from the police department. At least 50 percent of the residents in the watch area must attend the presentation; the group then qualifies for official neighborhood watch window decals and road signs.
The N. Bunn Street watch held its first meeting in a conference room at the Credit Union 1 on N. Bragaw Street. Welch said the best parts of the watch meetings usually happen after the presentation is over. People start to talk, she said. They talk about their kids or their gardens or snow removal or whatever, and before they know it they’re walking home together. Neighbors turn into friends.
“That’s the best, for me, because I see people connecting on a deeper level,” Welch said. “They’re beginning to care more and more about each other.”
Her appreciation for the program dates back to her own childhood in East Anchorage. The officer said she graduated from East High School, and grew up on a close-knit street next to a particularly nosy neighbor. The neighbor was always “a wealth of information,” Welch said, and she always seemed to care about what was going on along her street. And that was a good thing.
Welch said the watch program not only encourages people to look out for their neighbors, it also promotes more communication with the police department. She said she has no hard numbers, but she believes it’s an effective way of improving community safety.
On North Bunn, Goins said the watch mostly entails learning which cars belong where and paying attention to anything out of the ordinary. She said about 30 people attended the neighborhood watch picnic this past summer, picking up free t-shirts and plates of food and “junior police officer” stickers. Neighbors met each other for the first time, and put their names down on the watch group contact list.
At the same time the picnic was going on, Goins said, a television news crew was filming the scene of a recent shooting further down the street. They filmed the neighborhood watch sign but rejected an offer to cover the picnic, she said. That was frustrating.
If there were more neighborhood watch groups, maybe there would be less gunfire, Goins said.
“What I’m hoping is that someone else will take the lead and start another neighborhood watch group, because I think it will help with crime in the area,” she said.