NILES - Barry Steffey awakened unusually early Wednesday morning, hoping to play a game of basketball with friends before work.
It was 4:25 a.m. when the Niles resident poured himself a hot cup of coffee and let the dog out to the gated backyard on West Third Street.
Suddenly, his dog, Binky, burst into a frenzied bark.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Barry Steffey, chair of his block watch group, stands along West Third Street in Niles.
"The first thing I thought was she's waking the neighbors," Steffey said.
After calling his dog back into his home, Steffey caught a figure out of the corner of his eye as he was turning back inside.
"I saw two guys take off running toward the street," he said.
Steffey, who serves as chairman of Avenue and Main block watch, knew what to do next. Quickly grabbing the telephone from the kitchen table, he dialed 911 while stepping back outside to give police a proper location on the suspicious individuals.
"They must have thought I didn't see them, because I looked down the street and they were zig-zagging from driveway to driveway, jiggling the handles on all of the cars," Steffey said. "I couldn't believe they were being so obvious about it."
Steffey really began to worry when the two individuals approached a neighbor's home and attempted to open the locked door. Suddenly, he saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser, causing the pair to sprint away from the home along Nash Avenue. The police gave chase while Steffey continued to watch from a distance. Finally, Steffey said he heard police yell, "Stop or we'll shoot," followed by the two men putting their hands in the air and giving themselves up.
Niles Police Department reports show Corey E. Davis, 21, of Warren, and Darrell S. Marsh II, 24, of Niles, were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. The suspects told police they were just walking around the neighborhood.
A court date has been set.
The situation occurred the morning following a regular monthly meeting of the Avenue and Main watch group headed by Steffey.
"This is my first run-in with something like this," Steffey said. "As the captain of the block watch, I get a lot of people turning in addresses that they want me to give to the police where drug activity may be taking place, but nothing quite like this."
The organization just celebrated its one year anniversary of being formed in the south side of Niles. Steffey credited Avenue and Main with educating him on what to do and what not to do in these situations.
"In earlier times in my life, I probably would have reacted differently, but I would say my experience in both learning from the police and with the block watches, all you need to be is the eyes and ears," he said. "Help them by pointing things out and allow them to do their jobs."
According to Steffey, the tragic Florida death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of self-appointed neighborhood watch member William Zimmerman taught a lesson to people everywhere.
"That situation kind of gave all block watches a bad name," Steffey said. "We've really strived and talk about not being foolish enough to try and do anything. You've got a phone. Let the police do their job."
The group is planning to expand to a second neighborhood block watch on the west side of Niles, according to Steffey. Those groups are tentatively planned to start the new watches on Jan. 22.
"Just hearing from people around the neighborhood and friends and family, people want to watch out for one another. We aren't the traditional block watch of the 1970s and 1980s that gets in their trucks and goes out looking for trouble," Steffey said. "Things are different today.
Steffey noted the most important aspects of the modern block watches are knowing your neighbors and being aware of what is normal in your neighborhood and what is not.
"Little things like what are the addresses of your neighbors," he said. "Try and get that information and just have it handy. This morning the officer was yelling at me, 'What's the address.' I knew it and that is important in situations like that."