Copenhaver's cash to help fight crime

Mayor Deke Copenhaver: Augusta leader has set up a $1,000 grant to help form new crime watch groups across the city.

Barely a week after Augusta closed a record deadly year, grass roots crime-fighting got a boost.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver has set up a grant with $1,000 of his own money, saying it would offset the start-up costs of new neighborhood watch groups. He also wants to help existing neighborhood groups continue to be vigilant.

Copenhaver said Thursday he was inspired by the community's generosity in past projects to raise money for Haiti and beautification projects in Augusta.

"I wanted to leverage that success," he said. "When you give this community an opportunity to give, people are very willing to do that."

The funds would be set up through the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area and dispensed through the Grants Committee. Applicants will give a description of their crime prevention efforts along with the benchmarks they expect to accomplish with the money.

Adam Hoover, the coordinator for Olde Town Neighborhood Association, welcomed the news.

While it's always free to ask your neighbor to watch your home, technology makes it easier to establish a crime watch, he said.

Olde Town's watch has a phone system that allows members to record a message and send it out to other members' phones within minutes. This lets people know, for instance, that police are on their way to handle a belligerent drunk on Broad Street or that a home was vandalized within the past few days on Telfair Street, Hoover said.

The phone service costs $300 a year for 100 households, a fee that's collected from members of the crime watch. Hoover pays for the association's Web site design and hosting fees because he views it as a tool for the crime watch.

Other technology in the works include cameras to collect evidence on nuisance properties and deter crime in problem areas. A donation from a church will soon allow the association to pay for off-duty deputies to cruise the area at random times.

The fund is still in its infancy, but Copenhaver expects that crime watches can start applying "very shortly."