Prowling thieves are finding easy pickings among the cars parked in Aumond Place, and residents of the upscale neighborhood off Walton Way have had enough.
Despite an active Neighborhood Watch program that started earlier this year, crimes after dark have had homeowners on edge for the past month and a half. Cars are being rummaged through, and sometimes stolen, residents said.
On Aug. 14, Dick and Susy Wimmer's Buick Roadmaster and Chevrolet Impala were vandalized on Poindexter Drive. The bulbs on their motion detector floodlights were unscrewed, and windows in both cars were smashed, they said.
Two cellular phones, about $200 worth of CDs, a box of handgun rounds and a checkbook were taken, according to a police report. Checks are still coming back from stores such as Target, Sears, Lowe's, Office Max and Big Lots, with a spending tally already up to $3,600, the couple said.
"We're protected from paying for it," Mr. Wimmer said. "But it's aggravating knowing someone was on your property and took something, and you don't know who it was."
"Next time, we're going to pay more attention to our barking dog," Mrs. Wimmer said.
Although property crimes have been dropping in Richmond County in the past few years, neighborhoods forming crime watch groups have been on the rise, said Deputy Joey Young of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department's Crime Prevention Unit. Crime awareness might have something to do with the decrease in numbers, he said.
When neighbors form a watch program, the sheriff's department provides neighborhood watch street signs and helps organize officers. It takes a coordinator, an assistant coordinator and captains for every block or apartment building.
The deputy acts as a point of contact for the group and will attend meetings to give safety tips and answer questions.
Although the meetings can instill a degree of paranoia - tips include keeping valuables hidden in cars, mailing checks from the post office, locking doors while working in the yard and photographing everything in the house - they also can create a village spirit often lost in urban communities.
The Aumond Place neighborhood watch organizes block parties, puts out a newsletter and has compiled neighborhood directories with names, addresses and phone numbers.
Concerned about the break-ins - and shaken by the slaying of Fort Gordon Sgt. Marni Glista less than a mile away - Aumond Place residents held a meeting last week in an aerobics room in the Resource Center on Aging behind Daniel Village shopping center
Deputy Young reminded them that neighborhood watches aren't much good if neighbors aren't watching. Any suspicious person or vehicle, ringing alarm or odd bump in the night warrants a 911 call, he said.
Rarely is a crime done in silence. Someone usually hears or sees something, he said.
"We talk ourselves out of getting out of bed," Deputy Young said. "We talk ourselves out of making a call."
Even if the culprit is never caught, Aumond Place neighborhood watch coordinator Mary Louise Hagler said she is hoping conscientious neighbors will at least force criminals to find a new target.
"I don't know if it's going to stop it," Mrs. Hagler said. "But we can at least deter it, and stop being so careless."
For information on forming a neighborhood watch, call the sheriff's department at 821-1466.
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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