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Crime-weary neighbors become more vigilant
POULSBO — Residents of 4th Avenue, a street of family homes located by schools and churches, have taken neighborhood crime watch upon themselves.
Several have been victims of petty crimes — lawnmowers stolen, front yard flags and lighting ripped out, and reckless drivers that disregard the 20 mph speed limit.
It’s getting worse. Last week, George Minder and his neighbor, Verdell Pool, caught a burglar in Minder’s shed; the suspect had a knife and tools for breaking-and-entering. Michael Vargo of Bremerton was charged with second-degree burglary on March 27.
“If I had opened my shed, it could have been the end,” Minder said. “The Poulsbo PD did a great job, getting out here and responding [quickly]. “But it starts at the top ... The mayor, city council, I’m questioning [them] at this point.”
Homes here back up to the yard of a 5th Avenue home that was burglarized in August while its residents were home. The two men arrested for that crime and for burglarizing The Loft restaurant were living in a transitional house, provided by Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, on Viewmont Street and 4th Avenue.
Minder said he’s asked the city for more police patrols, but seems to only see the police after a crime has been committed.
“I don’t know how much the city can enforce burglary, but it goes hand in hand with not enforcing the roads,” he said.
Deputy Police Chief Wendy Davis said officers are self-directed when they patrol, sometimes directed by their on-duty sergeant, following up on suspicious activity they see.
She said they recommend block watch programs so neighbors can come together and communicate problems, set up phone trees, and communicate back with police. Her department can offer training and education on how to report criminal activity and become more aware. “We’ve lost touch with our neighbors,” she said. “Most of us work all day and come home and don’t talk to neighbors very much anymore, like it used to be.”
Not on 4th Avenue. Between Hostmark and Iverson streets, the residents have organized into a community watch, led in part by the vigilant Verdell Pool. Responding to constant speeders on the road and hearing of suspicious activity in his neighbors’ backyards, Pool set up a home surveillance system, with cameras fixed on his roof pointing toward the road and his backyard.
Pool, who lived in Bremerton for 30 years before moving to Poulsbo six years ago, said, “People here are naive, they think we don’t have real problems here. I used to be like that.”
It was he who noticed a man in Minder’s backyard, around 1 a.m., on his video monitor.
Minder said Pool called him up and asked if he was in his backyard. When they both went to check, Minder found his shed was locked from the inside and called the police.
“The cameras facing my backyard had me concerned, but the way it’s going... it’s the only way we caught the burglar,” Minder said.
Pool said he knows some might be offended by his cameras potentially recording their movements, but he sees them as a crime deterrent. He said he informed his neighbors of the cameras, not wanting to purposely infringe on their privacy. And Pool does have the right to have his cameras — Davis said it is not against the law to take pictures or record the public.
“It’s like at Viking Fest, someone bringing a camera,” she said. “Can we [police] do that? No. But the public doesn’t have the same expectations. If someone is doing something illegal with the camera, taking inappropriate pictures, that’s another story.”
Some of Pool’s other neighbors don’t have an issue either, especially when it comes to drivers’ speeding habits or disregarding the stop sign near his house. Pool said he has reported violator’s license plate numbers to the police, but doesn’t know of any action taken.
One of his neighbors, a retiree who asked to remain anonymous, said to combat criminals, she got a dog and is adding lighting to her front yard.“A lot of things happen in the dark. The more light you can throw on, the better it will be,” she said.
Another resident, who also asked for anonymity, said she remembered when she first moved in 40 years ago, she didn’t even lock their backdoor in the summer. She said she’s mostly gotten a “nonchalant” attitude from the police officers she’s reported to, and also wishes there were more patrols.
“They could sit in my driveway all day, but [crime is] happening in the middle of the night,” she said.
“It’s not the thing to do,” Pool said of nighttime prowlers. “Go in the wrong house and someone’s going to shoot them.”
Minder said he doesn’t think he could resort to violence against an intruder, but has two daughters to think about.
“If we’re to a point where we gotta defend ourselves ...,” Minder trailed off, shrugging. “I think it’s up to the government to figure that out.”
As Davis suggested, all the neighbors agreed communicating the area’s problems is important.
“Keep an eye out on your neighbors’ places, communication is very critical,” Minder advised. “If you don’t get along with your neighbors, it might be time to start."