Eye on the streets

Bob Weitzel spends at least four nights a month driving through neighborhoods of Warren’s 1st and 7th wards, looking for anything that is out of place.

For Weitzel, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, and about a dozen others, going on patrol is a way of giving back to the neighborhoods they lived in for most of their lives.

”People knowing that we are patrolling the neighborhoods stops some crime,” he said.

The citizen patrol usually has two people in each of two vehicles driving in tandem through the mostly residential neighborhoods, looking for things that are unusual.

Because they know the streets so well, NWNA members say they often are the first to notice when a new family moves into a house or when the occupants of another are having problems and allowing their homes to become run down.

“We’ve been doing this so long that people will call us when a house is vacant because someone has passed away or a family will be out of town for a few days,” Weitzel said.

Members of the the NWNA have been patrolling since 2006.

“We don’t go out on particular days or particular times,” Weitzel said. “We do not want to develop patterns that can be predicted.”

The group began doing patrols because members noticed crime increasing in neighborhoods just south of their wards.

“We did not want the crimes move into our neighborhoods, so we set up a neighborhood watch,” Weitzel said. “We knew we could not completely stop it, but we could slow it down.”

The group works closely with the Warren Police Department.

“From the beginning, they told us not become directly involved and not to confront suspects,” Weitzel said. “They told us to call police and have them handle whatever the situation is.”

Bob Myers, who moved out of Warren into Cortland, still participates in the neighborhood patrol. His son still owns the home from which he moved.

“These patrols act as a deterrent to crime,” Myers said.

Larry Larson, a longtime NWNA member and the Democratic primary winner to become the new 1st Ward city councilman, said the group works as the eyes and ears of the neighborhood.

“We are not challenging people,” Larson said. “We try to be good witnesses for the police.”

In April 2011, NWNA became more directly involved in crime than they typically do when they helped police capture Earl Lewis, 211 N. Fruit St., Youngstown, after he was seen breaking into a Warren home. Lewis had been a suspect in several burglaries earlier that year.

Weitzel said members of the neighborhood group were on patrol while police were chasing Lewis. Weitzel saw Lewis trying to get away and called dispatchers on his cell. Police chased Lewis across Riverview Avenue N.W. before they caught him.

Bob Groner, a member of the NWNA, would like to see the group expanded.

“We need more young people to become involved,” he said.

Mayor Doug Franklin was the city’s safety-service director when NWNA citizens patrol began.

“I value what they bring to the table,” Franklin said. “What they’ve been doing shows what can be done when a properly organized group that maintains good communication lines with the city police department.

“NWNA is one of the best,” he said. “They have been very effective, in part, because they have been receptive to suggestion from the police department.”

Franklin said the group’s patrol provides a sense of security to residents.

Kelly Nelson, who recently moved near the corner of Northfield and Beverly, was happy Wednesday to meet the men and women who are patrolling her neighborhood.

“I just moved here because where I was living my car was broken into and someone was shot near my house,” she said. “I did not feel safe. This makes me feel better. “

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, agrees that the patrol provide residents with a peace of mind.

“They are not going to stop crime, but when I have people calling who are fearful about something happening in their neighborhood, we can call NWNA to patrol the area and keep an eye on what is happening,” Colbert said.

Colbert said they have the ability to report things to the health department and building code violations on properties.