The phrase “neighborhood watchman” has taken a punch following the Trayvon Martin case.
Although a jury found Florida watchman George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of the unarmed teen, a local neighborhood watch group has to work a little harder to keep the trust of some of the people it is serving.
Kevin Widmer said the Community Crime Patrol’s approach to neighborhood watching is different from that of George Zimmerman.
“Our major goal is to observe and report,” Widmer said. “We don’t get that close to a situation. We don’t have weapons of any kind.”
Widmer says he’s fielded a lot of questions about the patrol following the Travyon Martin case.
“I just explain the differences. I tell them there’s a bazillion different things about what we do and what happened that day,” he said.
His patrols work in teams of two or three, wearing clearly-marked clothing. He said they do not confront suspicious people or pursue them.
“We would have never done that,” Widmer said. “We would have listened to the dispatcher and just waited for police.”
South Columbus is one of the newest areas for the crime patrol. It’s an area where revitalization is taking root in the midst of longstanding blight, neglect and crime.
“If you live in a nice neighborhood, people take care of it,” said resident Greg Waddell. “If it’s run down, you just go with the flow.”
Something the community crime patrol has been good at is keeping an eye on property.
On the south side of Columbus, there is a lot of new housing going up. Some of the properties get broken into before they ever are occupied.
These neighborhood patrollers stay on the lookout for people going between houses, looking inside cars or knocking on doors to see if anyone’s home.
Paul Hart said he is glad for the patrol, but looks on it as a bonus to what his Barthman Street neighbors are already doing for themselves.
“Everybody around here on this street knows who lives next door, and they watch out for each and every one of us,” Hart said.
Southside organizers said their goal is to empower residents throughout the neighborhood to take back their streets.
They see the community crime patrol as assisting in that effort. But they also want to see landlords held accountable when they let their property slide into disrepair and turn into a breeding ground for crime.
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