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Neighborhood watch groups aim to bring communities together » Redding Record Searchlight on Astini News

Six years ago, Jim Willson had enough with the rash of break-ins in his Igo-Ono neighborhood.

The grocery store was broken into four times in two months and two times before that. Around the same time, someone entered his house and made off with a dozen of his antique rifles and shotguns. A neighbor lost 26 antique guns.

He said he felt as if there was no control. The more people he met as he went door to door to warn them about what had happened to him, the more he discovered, they, too, had been victims of burglaries.

The areas from Selvester Ranch Road to the west on Platina Road to Clear Creek and Cloverdale roads are much safer, and Willson credits a watch program he established — out of neighborhood anger and frustration with housebreakings — for helping drive down crime.

"You and I cannot afford to support (police coverage) in every square foot of the country," the 86-year-old Willson said. "This is the way the future is going to have to be. You look for strange people in your neighborhood. It's not that you're being nosy; you only have power to take notes, jot down a license plate, and notify law enforcement. … And the way things are going with the budget, (coverage) is going to shrink."

Willson's program is unlike anything else but also exemplifies what a successful neighborhood watch group is capable of doing. Ono Igo Neighborhood Watch maintains a website. It assists a food bank, keeps firewood for people who cannot afford their own, takes people into town for appointments, picks up groceries and medications for those who cannot leave their houses, pays pet owners' spay and neuter bills through a fund and distributes donated pet food to households.

More recently, it raised money to install streetlights and is paying for the electricity.

The objective is to foster a sense of community and build a network.

"What's happened here is that people started to look out for other people," said Willson, who fields calls from people throughout the state who are interested in his group.

At least two, he said, are modeled after Igo-Ono: in Bakersfield and Mojave.

In Redding, two news groups plan to have their "coming out" during National Night Out, which this year falls on Aug. 7.

"Redding is a small place, and you've got people who are in bad shape," said Eddie McAllister, a community organizer who is shepherding neighbors through the formation of the watch groups.

The first is in the Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhood, and the second is in the area surrounding Le Brun Lane and Lawrence Road.

The first group meets Wednesday for a special project. It wants to create a mural on West Street, near Roanoke Avenue.

The wall in that site was recently scrubbed of graffiti, McAllister said.

"It said something like, 'quit snitching,'" he said.

He is hopeful of it being replaced with children's handprints and the names of people living in the neighborhood.

"That shows neighborhood pride in a positive way," he said. "You see your aunt's name there or your sister's and you'll have more respect."

The group recently was visited by Robert Wigington, who spearheads My Watch in the Enterprise area.

Last month, his group held a father-daughter dance. It also organizes movie nights at a park, a barbecue event, even balloon fights.

"What you have to do is find the hole or the crack and throw yourself in there," he said about his approach to neighborhood watch.

Wigington had a break-in at his house five years ago. At the time, his family was living in Boulder Creek. And like Willson, he was spurred to action after finding out his neighbors were feeling as vulnerable as he was.

His new neighborhood has felt the effects of Assembly Bill 109, or prison realignment.

It also is problematic that cash-strapped local governments have had to cut jobs for police, he said.

"Be vigilant, but stay away from vigilante," Wigington said.

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