Retired Onslow County Sheriff’s Office Dep. John Ricker took over Community Watch about five years ago, when there were only two communities in the program. He expanded on a program that he found in disarray, adding locations and making sure there was communication between the coordinators.
Now there are 123 branches of the anti-crime initiative in Onslow County.
Community Watch functions as both a crime prevention syndicate and as a place for general grievances in the community. Each community is assigned a coordinator, and the Community Watch coordinators work as liaisons between the sheriff’s office and the citizens of their communities.
Whenever there is a problem - whether it’s broken street lights, pest infestations or suspicious behavior - Community Watch members relay that information to Ricker and are directed towards the best course of action. Ricker in turn gets information out to the community through the coordinators about possible criminal activity in the area, warning them to be vigilant in the appropriate ways.
“I supply the information and I send it out to them,” Ricker said. “They in turn spread it out through their neighborhood.”
Carol Pegram and her neighbors in the Fox Trace subdivision joined the Community Watch initiative about four years ago. Theirs is the largest Community Watch program in Onslow County, covering 691 homes.
Fox Trace inhabitants had experienced a slew of teenage pranks, from mailbox bashing to ring-and-run incidents, that the neighborhood wanted to put an end to. They feared, Pegram said, that the incidents would escalate. But they didn’t necessarily want to call the police on the kids.
Community Watch offered an alternative.
“It's really helpful to tell them who to direct it to,” Pegram said. “Not every call is a 911 call.”
Many of the neighborhoods where Community Watch is active elect to erect road signs that say so. These signs often go in tandem with Crime Stoppers signs. Crime Stoppers is a service that works with law enforcement across Onslow County and offers cash rewards for anonymous tips about criminal activity.
But Community Watch is about more than reporting crimes; it's about neighbors looking out for each other.
Shaun Sickle, coordinator for the Sagewood subdivision, regularly patrols the streets of his neighborhood looking out for garage doors being open and unfamiliar vehicles parked too long. He moved to the area in 2015, and was asked to be a coordinator by his neighbors.
“The more people get involved the more things get noticed,” Sickle said. “It definitely just gives people the idea that this a neighborhood where people are probably watching.”
Sickle related a time when there was a car travelling at about 70 mph in his neighborhood. He and some other Community Watch members went out to the street and used flashlights to flag down the driver. They were able to keep the driver there until the highway patrol showed up.
"People appreciated someone keeping an eye out," Sickle said.
Community Watch also works with a variety of service providers whose drivers constitute the fleet watch. The fleet watch includes Jones Onslow Electric Company, Onslow Water and Sewer Authority and the Onslow County Schools transportation system. Drivers for these entities are trained to look out for aggressive dogs, young unattended children and people suspiciously snooping around car, according to Ricker.
“If they have a group of people that go out into the neighborhood and do work in the field, that's the kind of people I'm looking for,” Ricker said.
Those interested in starting a branch in their neighborhood or joining the fleet watch can call Ricker directly at 910-989-4008 or call the sheriff's office at 910-455-4000 and ask to set up a Community Watch in their neighborhood.
Reporter Maxim Tamarov can be reached at 910-219-8439 or firstname.lastname@example.org