By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Blood spatters on her steps, attempted break-ins and vandalized Christmas decorations pushed Lynnette Batiste to take control of her neighborhood.
Batiste, a security officer at Fort Hood, and seven neighbors started a neighborhood watch group Jan. 10 on their block of Pepper Mill Hollow Drive in Killeen.
Batiste and other neighbors said break-ins, violence and random gunfire drove them to take action.
"If there is not enough police officers, then we as a neighborhood should come together to protect what we work hard for," Batiste said.
Her message was right in line with the message of KPD's Crime Prevention Coordinator Tammy Moseley, who oversaw the group's first meeting and coordinates neighborhood watch groups for the Killeen Police Department.
"We have (neighborhood watch) programs like this because law enforcement can't be everywhere all the time," Moseley said.
A neighborhood where everyone knows each other is crucial to reducing crime, Moseley said. Neighbors who communicate are usually more aware of who should and should not be in the neighborhood and therefore more likely to notice and report when a criminal targets the area.
"One of the main goals is just to generate awareness of crime prevention concepts; then it will reduce a lot of crimes such as burglaries through unlocked doors, windows and things of that nature," Moseley said.
Also, she said neighborhood watch strives to increase residents' reports of crime in the area.
Batiste said part of her motivation in starting the neighborhood watch was coming home to blood on her doorstep.
"One morning I came home and there was blood all over my front porch and the garage. My basketball goal had been knocked over and cracked. My flower pots had been thrown in the yard," Batiste said.
KPD officers told her they traced a wallet left at the scene and discovered a fight had taken place hours before Batiste returned home.
In addition, Batiste has been home during two attempted break-ins in which she scared off the intruders and has an ongoing problem with vandalism to her yard from area schoolchildren.
Batiste said she has been frustrated with KPD's response to the vandalism and her reports of suspicious vehicles in the neighborhood.
"So I called the police, and I'm still waiting for them to show up."
Batiste said the meeting made her more aware of the department's patrol shortages and the role residents must play in reducing crime.
"We have to be the eyes," Batiste said.
Killeen Councilman Juan Rivera likened residents to scouts in the army who keep a lookout for trouble.
"I believe they are the eyes and ears of the city," he said.
Rivera said he attended the meeting, along with Councilman-at-large Larry Cole, not only because he represents the district, but also because he lives less than a mile down the road from where Batiste held the meeting.
"We, the citizens, have to help, " Rivera said. "This right here is how we help."
Neighbors aired frustrations and brought up specific concerns with KPD and council members present at the meeting.
Batiste said she took protecting her family into her own hands with alarms, motion detectors and weapons.
"If a burglar comes in my house, I got something for him," she said.
Moseley said motion sensors, bright lighting and window locks found at home repair stores are some of the added security measures residents can take.
After the burglary scares and a bloody fight on her doorstep, Batiste installed motion sensor spotlights that illuminate her home's perimeter if there is motion.
Joe Anderson said guns have been too close to his home in recent years. Last year around prom time, teenagers down the block from him were randomly firing guns, which alarmed him and his family, he said.
The summer before, Anderson found a loaded handgun in his yard. A few weeks later, he said teenagers knocked on his door and asked to mow his lawn.
When he turned them down, the teenagers told him the real reason they were there is because they left something in his yard and wanted to pick it up.
Anderson and others voiced concerns about drivers speeding through the streets.
Rivera said he was almost hit on his motorcycle by drivers speeding through the neighborhood.
Ruth Ann Watkins said she walks through the neighborhood daily and thinks the daily walk helps her get to know neighbors, and as a result, makes her feel safer.
"I'm still not afraid even though neighbors ask me if I carry a stick," Watkins said.
The meeting taught Watkins something new about watching the neighborhood.
"I need to carry paper and pen so I can write down things when I see them," Watkins said after Moseley told stories about observant residents who caught criminals simply by writing down details about suspicious characters and vehicles.
The Pepper Mill Hollow group is one of the more than 80 neighborhood watch groups in Killeen. The group averages about 50 members, and most have about three to four meetings per year.
One of the myths about neighborhood watch is that it requires frequent meeting and personal risk, which Moseley said is not the case.
She said neighbors decide how active their neighborhood watch is, and neighbors are encouraged to contact the police, not become the police.
Moseley said the groups are most involved during the spring and summer months, during which Moseley estimates she talks at about two meetings per week on topics chosen by the specific groups. The topics include gangs, drugs, holiday safety and personal safety.
Even if only two residents start a neighborhood watch, it makes a difference. Moseley said just having two neighbors who are more informed about crime prevention will educate the neighborhood through word-of-mouth.
Batiste started small with six neighbors at her first meeting but intends to grow her neighborhood watch group.
"The more people we are, the stronger we are together," she said.
Batiste also hopes her neighborhood watch will be a message to criminals.
"We can't let the criminals win," Batiste said. "They have to know that if you want the things we work hard for, then you have to go out there and get you a job and work just the same because it's not fair to us."
To find out more information about neighborhood watch, contact Tammy Moseley at 501-8805.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7468