<i>Neighborhood watch </i><br>Citizen involvement keeps an eye out

Staff photo by Dean H. Borgwardt

DONNA Castillo of Cottonwood has lived in her Cochise Street home for 33 years. She is chairperson of the Mingus and Main Neighborhood Watch program and has seen drug dealers and junky yards succumb to the effort of the program.

Cottonwood police officer Jim Pott is the liaison officer for the four neighborhood watch programs in the Cottonwood area.

He said that the programs are not just beneficial for law enforcement.

"They get people to know their neighbors and enables them to accomplish things as a unit," he said.

Pott added that the programs empower the community for a higher standard of living in the community they serve from safety to ordinances.

"It's not just fighting crime, it's about improving quality of life," Pott said. "They address issues like noise, parking, watching the elderly and even children."

Donna Castillo has lived in her Cochise Street residence for 33 years. Castillo is chairperson of the Main and Mingus neighborhood watch, the oldest in Cottonwood.

She said that before implementation of the program in her neighborhood, there were several houses dealing drugs and even a brothel.

"We had to become reactive because of all the drug dealing," she said. "That's why we formed. Our watch covers a 1.75 mile circumference with about 347 individual properties in it."

She said that with the assistance of Cottonwood Police and Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Prescott Area Narcotic Task Force (PANT), some 42 drug houses were removed from the neighborhood, many along Cochise Street.

She sat in the shade of her front yard and waved at a neighbor.

"We had to be reactive because of all the illegal activity," she said. "But that's changed."

Castillo said that her group is celebrating its eighth year in October.

Again, neighborhood watch isn't only about fighting crime. Castillo said that the program watches out for the children and the elderly as well.

"We have had programs where adults walk the kids to the school bus stop and do yard work for senior citizens," she sipped her ice water. "We also had a large appliance removal program. That was very successful, too."

Neighborhood watch programs are established to be the eyes and the ears for local police departments and are efficient in addressing concerns a neighborhood might have.

Still, the cohesive effort has a crime deterrent.

"We have noticed a decrease in crime in communities with the programs," Pott said. "When citizens band as a unit, they can get a lot more accomplished."

Pott said that if not for citizen participation, the job of law enforcement would be severely impaired.

Neighborhood watch works with city officials, planing and zoning committees and residents to address concerns from noise, nuisance abatement, residential speed, crime and safety concerns.

Carmen LaRosa is one of the coordinators with the Del Webb's Cottonwood Ranch Neighborhood Watch. This program is in its third year. Past speakers at Cottonwood Ranch meetings have been Cottonwood Municipal Court Judge Dan Bruno and Cottonwood City Manager Brian Mickelson and Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui.

According to LaRosa, firefighters from the Cottonwood Fire Department gave emergency demonstrations and fire safety tips in the home.

"We've done smoke detector checks, addressed speeding in the residential areas of our community and work with city officials," LaRosa said.

He added that other accomplishments have been security, lighting, safety, watching over vacationers' homes and most importantly, reporting suspicious activity to police.

A dogma of the Cottonwood Ranch watch is "neighbors helping neighbors helping police."

Neighborhood Watch is a national program to establish, maintain and advise block watches by providing a forum to nurture and to educate residents on crime prevention, quality of life and safety concerns, while providing a liaison with police departments and elected officials.

"It could be something as simple as keeping snakes out of garages by closing garage doors," LaRosa added.

According to LaRosa, the programs do not make or enforce rules; it does influence good habits.

To begin a neighborhood watch program, form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss the needs of your community and contact your local police department. For more information about neighborhood watch programs, log onto www.usaonwatch.org or call Cottonwood Police Department at 634-4246.

The Mingus and Main Neighborhood Watch boasts cleaning out drug dealers, old sofas and washing machines from its neighborhood.

"We look out for each other," Castillo commented. "Everyone deserves to have a decent place to live."

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