City to implement neighborhood watch program, smart phone app

EVART — When given the task of lining up in order of age without speaking or using their hands, Evart community members saw how vitally important communication is to solving a problem. Around 50 citizens of the Evart area gathered at the Evart Depot on Thursday for the first meeting of the community’s new Neighborhood Crime Watch program. “The point of the Neighborhood Watch is to get you to communicate with the people in the neighborhood that you may not have spoken to before,” said Evart police officer Michelle Gebbon, who facilitated the meeting. “We’re trying to break down barriers and create a neighborhood family.” The Neighborhood Watch program will designate a block captain in each region of the city. Business owners and residents in each area will report suspicious activity to their block captain, who will then communicate with the police. Emergencies still will be reported directly to police. The program’s goal is to decrease crime in the community by fostering relationships between business owners and community members. When individuals see things that may not typically be reported to police, it can be reported through the Neighborhood Watch program, and hopefully lead to stopping crimes before they are committed. “We want residents to know people in their community, so if a neighbor goes on vacation, they’ll know what should or should not be going on at his house while he is away,” Gebbon said at the meeting. To assist residents in communicating with police, the department unveiled a smartphone application through App Arrest, a company which provides smartphone applications to police departments around the country. The application offers residents the opportunity to submit a tip annonymously, report an abandoned vehicle, commend an officer, see where crimes have been committed and receive updates on wanted suspects in Evart. The department expects the app to aid in solving a crime by making reporting crime easier for residents. “The Evart community is so small and it’s really important for them to get all the tips they can,” said Phil Coraci, of App Arrest. “This is instantaneous.” Evart resident Muriel Gorthy remembers a time in the 1970s when the Evart area had a successful Neighborhood Watch program. She has lived in Evart for 55 years and said neighbors would have block parties, look out for each other when they went on vacation and maintain a sense of community. Since then, the program lost momentum, but the need for such a project has remained. Last year Gorthy was the victim of vandalism. Thieves stole her garden gazing ball and it was found smashed at the end of her road. “Hopefully this will stop criminals from doing something like that again,” Gorthy said. “Or if they do try, they’ll know there are people who will step up.” The idea for reinstating the program began three years ago, and was discussed again during this year’s National Night Out, a community party with the goal of fostering relationships between residents and law enforcement. With a recent stabbing in downtown Evart, and the closure of Dean Foods Liberty Dairy, EPS saw the increased need for the community to come together to protect their community. “We found out it was easier than we expected to get a neighborhood watch program going,” said Evart Mayor Eric Schmidt. To be involved in the community’s Neighborhood Watch program, individuals should attend a monthly meeting at least once in a six-month period. They also must not have a criminal record and are not able to carry a gun while watching the neighborhood. For more information on the program, call the Evart Police Department at (231) 734-5911.