Local law enforcement has blessed an effort to organize a neighborhood watch group in Apalachicola.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, about 20 people met at Battery Park to discuss crime in Apalachicola. Jackie Itzkovitz chaired the meeting.
She said she became aware of a crime problem in the city after metal furniture and a golf cart charger were stolen from her yard. Itzkovitz read a list of crimes committed around town over the last three months.
“In 52 years, I have not been robbed and now it has happened, and I feel violated,” Itzkovitz said.
She said she posted her concerns on Facebook and now has 360 followers. She said a watch group is in the works for Carrabelle but she plans to concentrate on Apalachicola.
In attendance were Sgt. Ryan Sandoval, community liaison with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Apalachicola police officers Ginger Creamer and Pam Lewis.
“This meeting is not meant to be a complaint session about the services these good people provide us on their limited budget,” Itzkovitz said.
She said she wants to explore how the community can help the police to fight crime. Itzkovitz said she believed the primary role of a neighborhood watch group would be to provide information and quash rumors. They will not attempt to apprehend suspected criminals and will not be armed, she said.
Nighttime neighborhood patrols are planned as part of the service offered by volunteer crime fighters. “The sheriff has offered me a car and gas any night I wanted it and I’m going to take him up on that,” she said.
Itzkovitz invited the police officers to speak. Sandoval took the floor first. He said help from the public is needed to fight crime.
“A lot of people don’t report the crimes they’re supposed to be reporting,” Sandoval said.
Lewis agreed. She said people who find stolen belongings frequently refuse to press charges when their things are returned.
Mayor Van Johnson said he had worked with an earlier neighborhood watch group that disbanded. “I remember some of the challenges we faced,” he said. “People don’t want to tell, don’t want to be a snitch.”
Sandoval said a strong volunteer base, training and a structured program are all part of an effective neighborhood watch group, such as what already exist in Lanark Village and on St. George Island.
“We need people who have lived here and know everybody to participate,” Lewis said. “Something suspicious to somebody new in the neighborhood may not be suspicious to someone who has lived there for a while.”
Creamer said safety was a major issue with crime fighting volunteers. “Never approach anybody,” she said. “Try to get the tag number or a description of the clothing, but the main thing is just be safe.”
Palmer Philyaw said he was a member of the police auxiliary for nine years. He stressed the importance of building a relationship with residents of patrol areas. “They need to learn the patrol car is not the enemy,” he said.
“I want to be trained,” said Itzkovitz.
Sandy Mitchem and Jim Kemp, organizers of the St. George Island Neighborhood Watch, attended. Mitchem said her group is anxious to help and offered to assist with training and take prospective Apalachicola watchers along on island night patrol.
She said members of the island watch receive uniforms and ID cards after completing a background check and training. “Educating the community comes first,” she said. “Don’t post on Facebook that you are going on vacation.”
Franklin’s Promise Director Joe Taylor said state attention is focused on Franklin County’s crime problem. “A lot of resources are coming from the state but it will take time,” he said.
If you are interested in volunteering or want more information about Neighborhood Watch, call Itzkovitz at 370-1080.