PROCTOR — A good neighborhood watch is simply a way for communities to better talk to police, said Rutland County’s sheriff.
Sheriff Stephen Benard explained how neighborhood watches work to the Select Board at its Monday meeting. He’d been invited to attend because, at the last board meeting, a number of residents asked selectmen to look into the matter after a number of recent high profile crimes had occurred in, or had some connection to, Proctor.
“Neighborhood watch is a national movement supported by the National Sheriff’s Association,” said Benard. “We have Lt. Jim Bennick, who’s had some training in it, and we have one area currently in the town of Ira that’s involved in an active neighborhood watch.”
He suggested that Proctor residents who want to take this idea further reach out to the Ira neighborhood watch.
“Neighborhood watch is a grass-roots community movement,” Benard said. “It’s nothing that the sheriff’s office runs or controls. ... It shouldn’t be a town-controlled function, it should be a grass-roots community function. Now, the sheriff’s office can obviously have representation on it, and the Select Board should have representation on it because it’s what’s going on in their town.”
Benard said neighborhood watches don’t have people wear uniforms or patrol on foot or in vehicles. Most, he said, consist of people, between 10 and 20, who share information with each other and police via email or some other online tool.
“As an example, probably 10 years ago now, we started a neighborhood watch group down in Wallingford,” Benard said. “It initially started with probably 40 people on it. One of the cons, or one of the challenges to it, I guess, is keeping everybody engaged and moving it forward. What happens is you get 10 or 15 people really want it, then they start dropping off and they’re not replaced, and pretty quick you’re down to a core of five or six of them.”
When it works, people will share bits and pieces of information they receive, such as partial descriptions of people or vehicles, or partial registration plate numbers and the like, then police can sometimes connect the dots to solve one or more crimes, Benard said.
“The trick to it is to have engagement from law enforcement,” he said.
At the May 28 meeting, not all felt a neighborhood watch would be useful in town, and had some added concerns about it.
“Since it wouldn’t be a town organization and the sheriff doesn’t really operate it, either, how would this play out if there’s an invasion of privacy?” said Rob Oberg, a Proctor resident who raised concerns about privacy at the previous meeting.
Benard said with the way neighborhood watches are structured, the members aren’t in a position to violate anyone’s privacy. Depending on what online tool the group is using, bad information can be sorted out by an administrator or law enforcement themselves.
“I don’t see any concerns with it being in place,” said Selectwoman Judy Frazier. “I think anytime you start a group it’s going to be the advocates that want it, so let’s say 10, those will be the people using it, looking out for one another.”
Another aspect of the discussion revolved around additional police coverage. Benard said his rough estimates for full-time sheriff’s department coverage in Proctor come out to about $279,000, not counting equipment and training.
Board Chairman Bruce Baccei said that given the Sheriff’s Department activity reports, he doesn’t think such an expense is needed.
“There’s nothing on there that warrants a full-time officer,” Frazier said.
Benard said the recent high profile incidents in town, while serious, don’t appear to reflect a larger social problem for the town.
At the May 28 meeting, residents alluded to two incidents as cause for their concerns.
One was the death of Alicia Harrington, 44, of Rutland, whose body was found in early March inside a vehicle on Florence Road. An investigation into that matter resulted in the arrest of Shawn Michael LaPlant, 28, who has pleaded not guilty in Rutland criminal court to a second-degree murder charge. The case is still pending.
Also, there was the May 18 death of Melanie Rooney, 31, of Proctor, who was struck and killed outside her home by a vehicle driven by Anthony J. Reynolds, 48. Reynolds has pleaded not guilty to several felonies in connection with Rooney’s death, manslaughter among them, and the case is pending.
Several at the recent meeting said these incidents likely would not have been prevented by additional police coverage.