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Crime watch goes online

Jim Weldon of Freeland, stands beside Bercot Road. Weldon was one of the original members of the Bercot Road Neighborhood Watch that started in 1989. - Spencer Webster / The Record
Jim Weldon of Freeland, stands beside Bercot Road. Weldon was one of the original members of the Bercot Road Neighborhood Watch that started in 1989.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

FREELAND — As homes continue to be burglarized across the South End, residents along Bercot Road are jumpstarting the Neighborhood Watch program they launched almost 20 years ago.

The new effort at fighting crime, however, goes beyond the standard “Neighborhood Watch” warning signs that have been raised in the area near the west edge of Holmes Harbor. Bercot Road residents have launched a “Neighborhood Watch” Web site, complete with a blog that features tips and other ways for homeowners to fight crime.

The stepped-up effort to keep the area safe started after two homes along Bercot Road were burglarized.

The two break-ins are part of a continuing string of burglaries that have hit the South End over the past two months. Since mid-December, 18 burglaries have been reported to the Island County Sheriff’s Office; seven break-ins were reported in Clinton, seven in Freeland, three in Langley, and one in Greenbank.

Some neighborhoods are making sure they aren’t next on the hit list. Currently, the neighborhood watch in the Freeland area is one of three active groups on the South End.

“Neighborhood Watch communities are important because we all need to be responsible to take care of ourselves first and watch out for our neighbors,” said Susan Knickerbocker, an organizer for the Bercot Road Neighborhood Watch organizer. “We do not have the enough police force and emergency aid available to do everything for us.”

The real benefit is that people take care of one another, said Natalie Hahn, Webmaster for the Bercot Road Web site.

“We are just keeping an eye on each other,” Hahn said. “The people here are very worried and very concerned and feel awful for the families whose homes were broken into.”

The group originally formed in 1989 so neighbors could watch out for one another.

Jim Weldon, 90, served on the first Neighborhood Watch and has lived in his home on Bercot Road since 1955.

“It used to be when September came around, all the people went home. This place was pretty quiet. But I’ve seen it grow a lot here,” Weldon said. “I know we watch each other’s houses. It’s been that way a long time.”

Weldon and two dozen other residents of the neighborhood met with Island County Sheriff Mark Brown late last month to talk about preventing crime.

“He was right on,” Weldon said, recalling the sheriff’s advice. “Keep your eyes open, watch for anything not usual.”

Jay Hale was also part of the original Neighborhood Watch effort. He said someone tried to get into his neighbor’s home recently.

“I know enough about my neighbors around here that if I see something out of line, I’m on top of it, and vice versa. I think getting together has a deterrent effect,” Hale said.

“This is a preventative measure we get involved with to help deter trouble before it starts,” Knickerbocker said.

“If more communities could get together and meet up to watch out for one another, that is just one more way to ward off trouble. It makes our island a safer and more desirable place to live. And it makes for building friendships, too,” she said.

Brown advises residents to lock their doors, light their driveways and install loud alarm systems.

“I think this is critical for any neighborhood,” he said.

The sheriff’s office said the number of burglaries across the South End in recent weeks is not unusual and that burglaries are linked to illegal drug use.

Many of the homes that were burglarized were vacation homes or houses hidden from the view of neighbors, Brown said.

For information about how to start a Neighborhood Watch, contact the sheriff’s office at 360-679-7310.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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