Neighborhood watch coming to family housing

Neighborhood watch meetings could start as early as April in a response to reports of a Peeping Tom and a rash of car break-ins around the family housing area of Southern Oregon University.

About 20 residents of the Old Mill Village Apartments gathered Tuesday night to discuss their concerns with university officials and Sgt. Scott Schuster, who will serve as the area commander for the complex under the Ashland Police Department's new community policing model.

"Tonight, in my eyes, is not the end," Schuster said. "I see this as the first of a series of meetings."

Since last June, police have received about ten reported cases of a prowler in the area bordered by Siskiyou Boulevard, East Main Street, Mountain and Walker Avenues. Schuster encouraged students to report any suspicious activity immediately to the police and reminded them that they could remain anonymous.

"Time is of the essence in responding to these types of things," he said. "This is definitely a priority to us. Don't be afraid to call the police."

Residents who attended the meeting said they wanted to be reassured that police and campus safety officers were taking action to keep them safe.

"My concerns were mainly to make sure there were precautions taken by the police to make sure people aren't looking in on us," said Dana Burchfield, a senior criminology major. "I think a neighborhood program is going to be important, but it takes effort, and a lot of us don't have time to do it because of school and work."

Others worried that not enough people showed interest in a community effort, but believed it is a good idea.

"I feel like I don't really know my neighbors very well," said Gail Lane, a senior criminology major who lives in family housing with her 19-month-old daughter. "A neighborhood watch program would bring our community together and it would be beneficial for everyone to know each other in the building."

Lane said she was recently harassed by a strange man in the park and had her car broken into last week.

"I became really paranoid and fearful," she said. "Growing up in Ashland, it was never an unsafe place for me. It was kind of a shock."

She signed up to be on the committee to organize the neighborhood watch and suggested video cameras be installed in the parking lots as an extra safety measure.

A neighborhood watch program with students could be challenging because they are a population in transition, with new residents arriving regularly, said Michelle Schuster, the family housing director. But she believed more students are interested, and those who attended the meeting would be able to spread information to their friends and neighbors.

"They definitely want it, it's just not as many are willing to be an active part in making it go," she said. "Keeping people up and active and getting new recruits is going to be a big thing."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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