Neighborhood watch membership declining

The Ector County Sheriff’s Office is losing a community resource as fewer people are participating in traditional neighborhood crime watch groups.
Ector County law enforcement officials have attempted to recruit more members without much success, and are concerned that competition from social media and mobile apps is winning over the attention of busy residents.
ECSO Lt. Reno Lewis of the crime prevention unit said areas like Pleasant Farms once had 50 active members but their neighborhood group disassembled about three years ago, and Goldsmith lost theirs in the last year. He said West Odessa has seen a drop from 30 members to fewer than 10 remaining participants involved with neighborhood crime prevention efforts.
Lewis said many former members have either moved away or are at an age where they can no longer be active members in the neighborhood watch.
Marjorie Owens has been a member of the West Odessa neighborhood watch for almost two decades and said attendance at meetings has been trending downward. She attributes their shrinking squad to residents having to work more hours to afford rising cost of living and a lack of free time in their schedules.
“You’ve got to be involved to make it work,” Owens said. “We are the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s office out here and we need more eyes and ears paying attention.”
Owens said neighborhood watch groups provide more than protection for residents and their property. She said officials with ECSO have used previous meetings to teach residents more effective ways to identify a suspect, communicate with dispatch and how to take inventory of their belongings in the event of a burglary.
“I think it’s needed for the communities out there in the county,” Lewis said. “The more people we can get into this, the more it helps them and helps us.”
He said neighborhood watches organize citizens to work together to prevent crime in their communities and report findings.
“The whole idea is to have as many people as you can be involved and watch out for each other, but an issue contributing to the decline are these apps on our phones like the Nextdoor app,” Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said.
Nextdoor is a social networking service for residents to stay informed about various happenings in their neighborhood. Users of Nextdoor submit their real names and addresses to the website and exchange safety tips and other information.
The Odessa Police Department is the only agency in Odessa listed on Nextdoor that utilizes the platform to connect with the public.
Griffis said having county residents virtually connected is a good thing for those who may not have the time to attend a meeting, however, law enforcement officials can be left out of the loop if residents only report suspicious activity on Facebook groups or Nextdoor.
“If we’re never notified of anything then we may never know what’s going on,” Griffis said. “We need to know if there are suspicious people in one area because those may be our burglars leaving an area and are scoping out a new area to target.”
The sheriff’s office currently has a Twitter and Facebook account to share information and receive private messages but cannot monitor all local pages set up by neighborhoods. The sheriff said ECSO is exploring ways to create a hub of information that benefits both residents and law enforcement officers.
An app specifically for ECSO is one option the sheriff said is under consideration, similar to the app launched by the Midland County Sheriff’s Office where residents can view frequently asked questions, navigate inmate information or submit a tip.
“We tried to get neighborhood watches up and going but our attendance was dismal at best,” Griffis said. “I wish we could get more people involved,” but “times have changed.”
He said the convenience of apps on smart phones may continue to hinder traditional neighborhood watches from forming.